“All health care issues are really local. What we do in our homes can then be spread to our block, can then be spread to our neighborhoods, to our towns, etc. Can individuals make a difference? Sure can. A big difference.”
—Dr. Wayne Tuckson
Sometimes a national ranking is not something to celebrate. When states are compared on health statistics, Kentucky is consistently among the “leaders” in such unwelcome categories as sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, lung cancer deaths, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, and overall death rate per capita. To kick off KET’s look at The CommonHealth of Kentucky, this program explores the reasons behind the state’s dismal showing on health measures, the tremendous personal and social costs of poor health, and how Kentuckians are working together to improve the health of their neighbors and their communities.
The focus of the program—and the series—is not disease but lifestyle: how choices people make every day affect their own long-term health and eventually the economic well-being of the entire state. Studies indicate that each dollar spent on cigarettes translates to two or three dollars in medical and other costs for the individual and society over the long term. And obesity alone is estimated to add more than $1.1 million to Kentucky’s Medicare and Medicaid costs each year.
“Health care costs are growing at such a rate—far faster than the economy—that it’s really eating up the state’s discretionary spending,” says Trudi Matthews of the Council of State Governments.
Genetics is certainly a factor in Kentucky’s health woes. And lack of insurance can cause people to forgo early treatment that could keep a small problem from becoming unmanageable. But in some ways, says Executive Director Susan Zepeda of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, we are also victims of our own success. “Wonderful innovations and advancements in medicine ... caused us to believe that there was a silver bullet for anything that ailed you,” she says. “And in some way we lost our personal responsibility for the health choices that we’re making.”
The good news is, because many of our collective health problems arise from individual choices, they can be tackled through small-scale efforts that reach one person or a few people at a time. In big cities, small towns, and rural areas across Kentucky, The CommonHealth of Kentucky finds reason for hope and sources of inspiration in workplaces, schools, and community-based projects.
This overview program profiles the work of Zepeda’s foundation, which was awarded funds from a state insurance settlement and specifically charged with finding effective health care projects—and then getting the word out about them so that other communities can replicate their success. We also visit several of the “Models That Work” the foundation identified to hear personal testimonies about how better health can turn lives around.
The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is itself a two-person operation, and many of the community projects it has spotlighted are similarly tiny, with shoestring budgets. Others operate on a larger scale. But as we visit many of them in this program and throughout the series, we learn that they share a common approach: one person and one step at a time.
By emphasizing the personal, Zepeda says, the foundation seeks to inspire individuals to take charge of their own health and to get involved in community wellness efforts. The fact that small efforts can make a big difference is “a tremendous source of hope.”
“It’s not just the devil that’s in the details,” she explains. “The answers are in the details, too.”