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Kentuckians’ Health Fears Align Closely with Reality

May 27, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. - What ails Kentuckians the most aligns with what they fear the most when it comes to health concerns. A recent survey by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky polled those in the Bluegrass State about the health issues most important to them, and their answers weren't surprising. Both men and women share the same health concerns, says Sarah Walsh, the Foundation's senior program officer.

"When we asked Kentuckians what their leading health concerns were, they overwhelmingly said for men it was cancer followed by heart disease. The same for women, cancer followed by heart disease; and for children, obesity and diabetes top the list of biggest health concerns."

According to the Kentucky Department of Public Health, the leading cause of death in Kentucky for women is cancer; for men, it's heart disease. Accidents are the leading cause of death for children.

The most common cancer killer in Kentucky is lung cancer, due in large measure to the state's heavy smoking rates. Susan Zepeda, who heads the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, says lifestyle choices can make a difference in fending off those diseases. But she also believes the grim health facts - and Kentuckians perceptions of them - should inform policy changes that support healthier habits.

"So, we think that having restaurants and businesses that are smoke-free makes it easier not to light up; and we think that having the caloric value of foods posted on menus makes it easier for people to make healthy food choices."

Walsh points to the state's vital statistics, which prove that Kentuckians are dying at rates higher than the national average from serious, yet often preventable diseases.

"We know that chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes are the things that are killing Kentuckians. So, we are right to be concerned about them, and we're right to take steps to prevent them."

Kentuckians also have a lower life expectancy than the national average. They can expect to live an average of 75.5 years, compared to 78 years for Americans overall.

The full report, "What Kentuckians' Think are the Most Important Health Issues Facing Men, Women and Children," can be found online at healthy-ky.org.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY