Obesity, cancer and problems with health insurance or health care comprise three of the top four issues Kentucky adults think are the most important health concerns facing men, women and children in the Commonwealth, according to the first report of the Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP) to be released this year.
Hunger and malnutrition was the other top-four issue for children, while heart disease made the top-four lists for both men and women.
“One in four adults said obesity was biggest health issue for Kentucky’s children, and they’re right,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “Unhealthy weights during childhood lead to a myriad of chronic conditions in adulthood, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and bone and joint problems. We’ve made some progress with our youngest children, but Kentucky ranks near the bottom, 40th out of 43 states reporting, for high school student obesity rates.”
KHIP is funded jointly by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health in Cincinnati.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity rates have been climbing for Kentucky high school students (18.5 percent in 2015 compared to 16.5 percent in 2011) and adults (34.6 percent in 2015; 30.4 percent in 2011), but declining slightly for children ages two to four (13.5 percent in 2015; 15.6 percent in 2011). The Foundation has focused on childhood obesity by providing funding, training and technical assistance to six community health coalitions working on the issue in Kentucky under its Investing in Kentucky’s Future initiative.
At the same time, many of Kentucky’s children live in homes where they might not have enough to eat, and that issue is reflected by the 6 percent of respondents who listed hunger and malnutrition as a top-four issue for children. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 23 percent of Kentucky children live in food-insecure households.
Cancer and heart disease ranked first and second, respectively, for the top health concerns for men and women. Cancer and heart disease are leading causes of death for both Kentucky men and women, according to the CDC.
“These surveys help us determine the issues Kentucky adults are facing and how to best focus our efforts to serve their needs,” says O’dell M. Owens, M.D., M.P.H., President/CEO of Interact for Health. “The results of this particular question show the complexity of health issues faced by Kentuckians. For example, some respondents identified obesity as the top issue for children, while others identified hunger and malnutrition.”
Obesity cited as top issue for children
One in 4 Kentucky adults (25 percent) said obesity was the most important health issue facing children. In Kentucky, 19 percent of high school students were obese in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Problems with health insurance or health care (10 percent), cancer (8 percent) and hunger/malnutrition (6 percent) were also mentioned. Data from the US Census Bureau indicate that 23 percent of Kentucky children lived in food-insecure households in 2014.
In Northern Kentucky, results were mostly similar to statewide results for the top two issues – 26 percent cited obesity as the top issue for children, and 10 percent said health care or health insurance was the most important issue.
“Responses from Northern Kentucky adults were different from adults statewide and every region in one category,” says Dr. Owens. “Seven percent of Northern Kentucky adults said that lack of preventive screening/vaccination was the most important health care issue facing children in Kentucky.” Statewide, only 3 percent of adults ranked this as the most important health issue.
For women, cancer named top health issue
Nearly 4 in 10 Kentucky adults (39 percent) identified cancer as the most important health issue facing women in Kentucky. Three in 10 (30 percent) specified breast cancer, and 1 in 10 (9 percent) said cancer generally. This was followed by heart disease (11 percent), problems with health insurance or health care (10 percent) and obesity (9 percent). According to the CDC, cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death for women in Kentucky.
Another 19 percent of Kentucky adults named other health issues such as diabetes, smoking, substance use, prenatal and reproductive health, mental health issues, and others. Northern Kentucky results were similar to statewide results.
Cancer, heart disease named men’s top issues
About 2 in 10 Kentucky adults identified either cancer (21 percent) or heart disease (20 percent) as the most important issue facing men. Problems with insurance (12 percent) and obesity (10 percent) were also mentioned. Cancer and heart disease are also the leading causes of death for men in Kentucky, according to CDC statistics. Another 24 percent of Kentucky adults named other health issues such as diabetes, substance use, smoking, mental health issues, and others. Northern Kentucky adults responded similarly to adults statewide.
Increased concern compared with 2010
Two issues were mentioned much more often in 2016 than in 2010, the last year KHIP asked these questions. Mentions of health care and health insurance problems more than doubled. In 2010, no more than 4 percent of respondents cited those issues as the most important for women (4 percent), men (2 percent) or children (2 percent). In 2016, at least 10 percent of Kentucky adults mentioned those issues for women (10 percent), men (12 percent) and children (10 percent). Also, less than 1 percent of adults mentioned hunger/malnutrition as an issue for Kentucky’s children in 2010, compared with 6 percent in 2016.
KHIP is an annual telephone poll of Kentucky adults about a variety of topical health matters. This latest KHIP was conducted between Sept. 11 and Oct. 19, 2016, by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, which interviewed a random sample of 1,580 adults from throughout Kentucky. A copy of the report is available here. The Foundation will release additional KHIP reports on a regular basis through early June 2017.