Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Life expectancy 75 for newborns in Crittenden

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On average, children born this year in Crittenden County might expect to live to the year 2091. But a few basic changes made to the unhealthy lifestyles that have become part of our culture could allow those babies to see the dawn of the 22nd century, says local physician Dr. Rex Manayan.

Released earlier this month, data from researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation show the life expectancy of newborns today in Crittenden County is 75 years. That’s on par with nine other western Kentucky counties, including Livingston, Union and Caldwell counties; more than three others, including Webster County (74); and slightly less than other counties west of Interstate 65, including Lyon County (76.)

The average lifespan across the state for people born in 2016 is 76 years, according to the VCU center’s study. That ranks 45th out of the 50 states and District of Columbia, reports Measure of America, a separate initiative of the  Social Science Research Council.

The VCU data show that chances to lead a long and healthy life can vary dramatically by county in the commonwealth and that the lowest life expectancies are in eastern Kentucky. More affluent central Kentucky, commonly referred to as the Golden Triangle – an area between Louisville, Lexington and Covington – has the longest expected life span.

“Health differences between communities are rarely due to a single cause,” the researchers said in a press release.

“The health differences shown in these maps aren’t unique to one area. We see them in big cities, small towns and rural areas across America,” said Derek Chapman, the VCU center’s associate director for research.

Life expectancy is perhaps the most basic measure of a community’s overall health. While 75 years is roughly equal to the average in most western Kentucky counties, a closer look at each county shows deeper differences in health outcomes and the factors that drive them.

Health researchers say life expectancy is driven by a complex web of factors that influence health – opportunities for education and jobs, safe and affordable housing, availability of nutritious food and places for physical activity and access to health care, child care and social services.

Dr. Manayan, a surgeon with Crittenden Health Systems, is concerned about the community’s overall health and regularly coaches patients and the community through a series of health and wellness conversations.

“There seem to be a lot of sick people in Marion,” the doctor said.

Manayan said there are a few simple “baby steps” people can make right now to expect a longer, healthier life. Among those are cutting out sugar and increasing exercise. But these cannot be temporary fixes, he cautions.

“At the end of the day, there has to be a lifestyle change,” he said. “Getting this set in your mind first is the most important thing.”

The VCU center’s map and data released last week is the latest effort by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to raise public awareness of the many factors that shape health, particularly social and economic factors.

Another is the County Health Rankings, done annually by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The rankings don’t provide a comprehensive explanation for life expectancy, but they provide helpful correlations.

For example, Crittenden County ranks 38th out of 120 Kentucky counties in overall health outcomes and 64th in the factors that influence those outcomes. Crittenden has an adult obesity rate equal to the state average of 32 percent, the local rate of adult smokers is lower, as is the number of newly diagnosed sexually transmitted infections. However, the county’s percentage of population with adequate access to locations for physical activity at only 18 percent is abysmal when compared to the statewide average of 70 percent.

Crittenden County ranked far behind the state average in all areas of clinical care ratings, placing it at 102nd in that category. Those areas include the number of uninsured; the ratio of primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers; preventable hospital stays; diabetic monitoring; and mammography screening.

Livingston County’s health rankings were similar to Crittenden County’s. The overall rank in health outcomes was 35th and 50th in factors that influence those outcomes. Livingston ranked slightly better than Crittenden and at or below state averages except the number of teen births and percentage of those with access to exercise opportunities. However, at 52 percent, Livingston County’s percentage of population with adequate access to locations for physical activity was nearly three times that of Crittenden County.

The complete rankings are available at CountyHealthRankings.org/app/kentucky/2016/overview.

To improve health, experts say there must be a change in culture beginning at the local level.

“We must build a society where everyone, no matter where they live, the color of their skin, their financial or family situation, has the opportunity to lead a productive, healthy life,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey.  “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each community must chart its own course, and every person has a role to play in achieving better health in their homes, their communities, their schools and their workplaces.”

Sharing information from one of his “Healthy Living” talks, Manayan points to five basic things people can do to improve their health:
  1. Cut out the sugar: This is the No. 1 cause of obesity and other health issues such as Type II diabetes, hypertension and atherosclerosis.
  2. Increase Vitamin D3 intake: Every day, scientists are finding increasing associations of low Vitamin D levels to more and more diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure and dementia.
  3. Eat more healthy fats:  These include Omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts and fish.
  4. Focus on gastrointestinal health: The majority of our immune system is in the gut. One cannot have a healthy immune system if they don't have a healthy gut.
  5. Get moving: Exercise has been scientifically shown to help with multiple diseases, even depression and cancer.
(Editor’s note: Kentucky Health News contributed to this story. Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.)