Same old story for Kentucky seniors

June 14, 2014 

Kentucky seniors face more health challenges than those in most other states. Kentucky ranks 48th in the nation for senior health, according to the second edition of United Health Foundation's America's Health Rankings Senior Report.

Nationwide, seniors are showing encouraging gains in key health measures and taking steps to improve their own health. But that is not the case for Kentucky. Underscoring the state's troubling ranking, more than 38 percent of older adults in the state are physically inactive — meaning they reported doing no physical activity or exercise (such as running, calisthenics, golf, gardening or walking) other than their regular job in the last 30 days — making Kentucky seniors the least active in the nation.

More than 12 percent of Kentucky seniors are smokers; only Nevada has more older adults who smoke. Additionally, our obesity rate is among the highest in the country, with more than 170,000 obese seniors.

However, it's not all bad news for the Bluegrass state. Strengths include a low percentage of low-care nursing home residents, at 7.1 percent (10th nationally); a low prevalence of chronic drinking at 2.1 percent (5th); and a low prevalence of arthritis pain.

Older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2030, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it crucial to address these challenges. Nationally, more than 35 percent of seniors have four or more chronic conditions, while more than 25 percent of seniors are obese and 28 percent are physically inactive. Only about 60 percent of seniors received the flu vaccine in the last 12 months.

The Senior Report is a valuable tool for measuring and understanding the key challenges and opportunities facing Kentucky's seniors. It is important that we develop effective programs and solutions that address seniors' health needs in Kentucky and nationwide.

The report identifies health challenges in our communities, but it is more than a snapshot of seniors' current health status. It is a call to action. The full report is available online at americashealthrankings.org/senior, along with state-by-state rankings and a full resource library with web sites and articles offering information and actions we can take to address a myriad of health problems. Visitors to the site can post stories about programs that have made a difference in their lives and can share them via Facebook and Twitter.

Ultimately, changing the course of our health as a nation, as a state and as individuals is in our own hands. Fifty percent of a person's health status is a result of behavior — choices made each day with respect to physical and emotional well-being. Changing daily behaviors can bring about big changes to population health.

I invite you to join the conversation. Learn more by following us on Twitter, @AHR_Rankings, Facebook (www.facebook.com/AmericasHealthRankings) and on our Web site, www.americashealthrankings.org/senior.

Guy Shrake is medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Kentucky.

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