Appalachians are sicker and die younger from conditions like heart disease, cancer, and drug overdoses than the rest of the nation, according to a study released today by a government agency and private charities.
Health problems are worst in the 13-state region’s most rural and economically distressed areas, according to a joint press release from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was also part of the research.
The study reviews 41 population and public health indicators to provide a comprehensive overview of the health of the 25 million people living in the Appalachian region, federally defined as 420 counties stretching from northern Mississippi to the southern tier of New York.
Key findings include:
“This report begins to identify key health challenges confronting Appalachia,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl. “Now we need to understand the implications these findings have for Appalachia’s economy so we can continue working towards a brighter future for the region.”
The report also examines 20-year trends for selected indicators. While the region and the country have made improvements on many health measures, the improvements made by the nation overall frequently outpace those made by the region, resulting in widening disparities. For instance:
“These data bring attention to the growing health gap between Appalachia and the rest of the country,” said Hilary Heishman, senior program officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The U.S. can’t be healthy as a whole if we are leaving whole regions behind. Both taking on the challenges and building on the assets that counties in Appalachia have will be essential to building a Culture of Health.”
Health Disparities in Appalachia is part of Creating a Culture of Health in Appalachia: Disparities and Bright Spots, a multi-part health research project conducted by ARC in partnership with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The research team was led by PDA, Inc., of Raleigh, North Carolina, in collaboration with the University of North Carolina’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research and Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Data sets used in this report included county-level data compiled from numerous sources, such as County Health Rankings and Roadmaps; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; Area Health Resource Files; and the American Community Survey.
“In measure after measure, the Central Appalachian region—including Eastern Kentucky—faces greater health challenges, and gaps are widening at a faster rate, than in the rest of Appalachia and the nation,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “Appalachia’s economic livelihood is absolutely dependent on improving these health measures. The foundation believes that the single most effective step we can take toward that end is to reduce our high smoking rates.”