My Old Kentucky Funeral Home
When your home state makes national news as one of the unhealthiest places in the world, you don’t know whether to drink more whiskey or eat more chicken. Just goes to show you that old habits die hard. My Old Kentucky home is “similar to a third-world country” according to one doctor.
Some say its ignorance, others say it’s just one more thing to add to the image problem of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I say it’s just plain stubbornness. Change ain’t exactly something we go for around here.
According to the Louisville Courier Journal in an article picked up on Yahoo! News and undoubtedly other worldwide web news portals, Kentucky ranks among the unhealthiest states in the Union.
It would be nice to say it was some genetic difficulty, but it’s largely self-induced as we continue to lead the nation in smoking, fatty and high-calorie country food, and sitting on the couch watching University of Kentucky basketball even in the off-season (i.e., not playing basketball for exercise in the summer).
On almost every health measure, except for all-around friendliness, Kentuckians flunked. The state scored second worst nationally for number of cancer deaths, fifth worst for cardiovascular deaths, and seventh worst for obesity. It all adds up to a death rate 18 percent higher than the national average.
The statistics weren’t limited to specific socio-economic conditions but reflected citizens across the board as all income levels were affected by cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes-all of which are linked to smoking, poor eating habits, and sedentary lifestyles.
“We don’t have to worry about foreign aggressors,” said Dr. Baretta Casey, a Hazard physician and University of Kentucky professor. “We are killing ourselves off.”
Well, that’s par for the course. Most Kentuckians I know would rather kill themselves than let somebody else do it.
Though all income levels were reflected, the numbers did seem disproportionate among urban minorities and the poorer rural areas of the state. Kentucky has 43 of the nation’s 340 persistently poor rural counties.
One report out of McKee, a very small town in eastern Kentucky, regales readers with the tale of one patient with untreated cancer so advanced that she had a foul-smelling open wound in her breast.
“I see a lot of illnesses similar to a third-world country,” said Dr. Sandra Dionisio of the White House Clinic in McKee, an internist trained in the Philippines.
The statewide cigarette tax was recently raised from 3 cents a pack to 30 cents, which still leaves state cigarette prices among the lowest in the nation. Number one in the United States for lung cancer deaths, Kentucky is also the nation’s top producer of burley tobacco while having the highest percentage of adult smokers. Think there might be a connection?
Kentucky’s relationship with tobacco is part of a larger, long-standing culture that it is resistant to and fearful of change. The traditional southern diet of fat, sugar, more fat, some whiskey, a cigarette, lard, biscuits, and a heaping helping of watching other people exercise has led to the state’s health woes.
Over 25 percent of all state residents are obese, which puts them at risk for heart attack, stroke, Type II diabetes, and colorectal cancer.
Governor Ernie Fletcher, who is a physician, along with Dr. James Holsinger Jr., secretary of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services said health was a top priority in coming years.
“We’ve got some big mountains to climb,” Holsinger said.