Oldham County has the healthiest residents in Kentucky this year, while Owsley County remains the least healthy county in the state for the second year in a row, according to a recent study.
That data was released Tuesday by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in the third annual County Health Rankings.
In compiling the rankings, researchers used five measures to assess the level of overall health or "health outcomes" for Kentucky by county: the rate of people dying before age 75, the percent of people who report being in fair or poor health, the numbers of days people report being in poor physical and poor mental health, and the rate of low-birth-weight infants.
Fayette County is the 10th-healthiest of Kentucky's 120 counties, according to the rankings.
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When Owsley County ranked last in 2011, health officials began more outreach to try to persuade more women to get pap smears and mammograms, said Karen Cooper, public health director of the Kentucky River District Health Department. The regional health department oversees the delivery of services by the Owsley County Health Department.
Cooper said her department is willing to try improvements, but "we don't have the funding. Our budgets are cut every year."
Cooper said other resources also are limited in Owsley County.
"You have one grocery store in town. Owsley County is a rural county; it's a poor county," Cooper said. "Those are barriers I think to a lot of the measures you can take to become a healthier society."
The County Health Rankings rank the overall health of nearly every county in all 50 states, using a standard way to measure how healthy people are and how long they live, according to a statement from the researchers.
According to the 2012 Rankings, Oldham County slightly surpassed Boone, which was the highest-ranking county in 2011, followed by Calloway, Spencer and Woodford. The five counties with the poorest health are Owsley, Martin, Wolfe, Harlan and Pike.
Terry Brooks, executive director at Kentucky Youth Advocates, said health is connected rather closely to a family's income.
Studies show that a family's health improves as its income increases, Brooks said.
Kentucky Youth Advocates is working to reduce poverty among Kentucky families and, in turn, improve their health, Brooks said. One project aims to adopt a refundable state-level earned-income-tax credit and to make the state-level Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit refundable in Kentucky.
"We give tax breaks to big corporations and small businesses alike, and it's just as important that we give a break to hard-working families struggling to make ends meet," Brooks said.
"The Kentucky General Assembly failed to act on the credits this legislative session, but we believe these credits might just be one way to help lift Kentucky families out of poverty and improve their health," he said.