CDC boss Tom Frieden, at SOAR, gives examples of how communities can improve health, such as smoking bans

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Speaking to a region with some of the nation’s poorest health, the top federal public-health official gave examples of how individual communities and states have made themselves healthier.

“Health is not just about health, it’s about society,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told more than 1,000 people at the Shaping Our Applalachian Region Innovation Summit in Pikeville. “Healthy societies are more productive, and productive societies are more healthy.”

Referring to Kentucky’s high rates of disease and factors that cause them, Frieden said bringing Eastern Kentucky’s health statistics up to the national average would save more than 1,000 lives a year.

Frieden cited six communities that have tackled specific health issues, such as obesity, lack of physical activity, heart health, smoking and teen pregnancy.

Obesity is one of SOAR’s three main health targets, but it’s not an easy one, Frieden said. He said Somerville, Mass., reduced obesity in children under 6 by 21 percent by making it a community issue, with creation of farmers’ markets for local produce, construction of walking paths and the mayor leading community walks.

“Physical activity is the closest thing to a wonder drug,” Frieden said, because it helps prevent heart disease, strokes, diabetes and cancer, improved mood and lengthens life.

The leading preventable cause of death is smoking, Frieden said, calling for ordinances and laws making workplaces smoke-free. “Nobody should have to risk getting cancer to come to their job,” he said.

Heart disease is the most preventable major cause of death, Frieden said, explaining how Minnesota and Grace Community Health Centers in Knox, Clay, Leslie and Bell counties have improved heart health by improving treatment of high blood pressure, or hypertension. “It’s the single most important thing” to do for heart health, and it’s simple, Frieden said, because the medicine is inexpensive and taken once a day with few if any side effects.

Frieden said the CDC thinks a lot about teen pregnancy because “Teen pregnancy perpetuates a cycle of poverty.” He said Spartanburg, S.C., reduced teen pregnancy by 61 percent from 2001 to 2014 partly because South Carolina’s Medicaid program paid for long-acting, reversible contraception immediately after delivery, and was the first state to give full reimbursement for post-partum insertion of intrauterine devices for birth control. Kentucky Medicaid doesn’t cover such services.

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