Op-Ed

Opioid abuse isn’t the only deadly health crisis faced by Kentucky

Overdoses and other tales of hard drugs understandably take the headlines in Kentucky. And for good reason; the opioid epidemic claimed the lives of 1,160 Kentuckians in 2017 alone. However, the Bluegrass State is facing a far more silent killer, one whose name has been uttered from time to time but lacks the shock factor of prescription pills. Sadly, it’s just as deadly: obesity.

From the last estimates in 2018, 36% of adults in Kentucky are obese. That’s the fifth highest rate in America. Unfortunately, this number has risen at a staggering pace. Only 12.7% of Kentucky adults were obese in 1990.

Being large itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but what it brings can be morbid. The risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer all increase considerably from being too heavy. Each of which, are among the leading causes to premature and preventable deaths nationwide. According to the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, obesity is responsible for 18% of deaths among black and white Americans between the ages of 40 and 85.

Fortunately, the growth in obesity rates have finally begun to level off, but the problem continues to loom and its consequences are still dire.

In addition to the health risks, obesity takes a serious toll on the bank account. Adults with obesity spend on average $3,429 more annually on medical care. Even with the clear danger and burdensome costs, obesity still does not see its proper screen time.

This health crisis lacks the distress that is garnered by a hepatitis outbreak or the opioid crisis. It doesn’t get enough clicks. As a result, obesity has crept into regular life, shrouding itself as a normalcy in the Bluegrass. A normalcy that Kentuckians seem to have accepted.

Kentucky’s other health issues are receiving a disproportionate amount of the public’s funds as well. The University of Kentucky just received a $31.5 million federal grant to combat the opioid epidemic. There have been no recent grants of the same scale to fight or study obesity in Kentucky.

Representatives and officials in Frankfort have not made many large scale efforts to combat this critical crisis, however, there is only so much they can do. The capitol controlling exactly what does and doesn’t go in a Kentuckian’s diet isn’t a realistic, nor ethical, way of dealing with the state’s obesity.

To make matters worse, obesity is notoriously difficult to correct, which may explain the public’s lack of interest. This is largely a cultural problem, one that will need to be addressed in the community. As delicious as they are, it’s the hot brown and Ale 8 we have to blame, not Matt Bevin. That being said, catapulting obesity into the public discourse is something the government and media outlets can and should do.

If Kentucky really wants to live longer, save money, and gain that prosperity its leaders and dreamers so commonly hanker for, this is an issue that must be addressed immediately.

A serious discussion must take place, not only in the halls of the Capitol, but more importantly, at the dinner tables all across the state.

Jonathan Pezzi is a native Kentuckian who now works as a free-lance writer in New York.
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