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Making a Difference: Striving for a Healthy Kentucky

Ben Chandler in a blue and white gingham shirt sitting on a wooden desk next to a lamp and framed photos. In the background are a window and bookshelves lined with books.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended much of the way of life in Kentucky, but it’s also served to underscore the essential role that “good health” plays in so many Kentuckians’ lives, said Ben Chandler, the former Kentucky attorney general and Congressman who now serves as president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

“Good health is one of those things that we usually take for granted until we don’t have it — and then we understand very quickly how utterly crucial it is,” Chandler said. “Ultimately, it’s the fulcrum of everything we do in life.”

The journey to good health isn’t easy, but it’s made more manageable if you have good information, Chandler said.

“KET strives to educate and improve the lives of Kentuckians by providing them with the facts they need. And in this environment, we need that more than ever.”

Ben Chandler

That’s why Chandler says he’s a devoted viewer of KET and its health-related programs, such as Kentucky Health and KET Forums, which offer in-depth examinations of many of the Commonwealth’s most pressing health concerns, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and mental health.

“KET is the public’s premiere outlet for health information in Kentucky,” he said. “It’s nonpartisan. It’s even-handed. And it has a long track record for giving us the facts. It really is a tremendous resource for learning how Kentucky can become a healthier community.”

Compared with other states, Kentucky certainly has its share of health challenges. It has the highest cancer incidence and mortality rates in the nation — rates largely attributable to smoking and lung cancer. And it has some of the highest rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

These health problems, Chandler said, have bedeviled the Commonwealth for a long time. And they stem, in some measure, from what he calls the “social determinants of health” — the underlying environmental and social conditions in which people live and work.

“A lot of Kentucky’s problems have to do with education and poverty,” Chandler said. “And these are problems that can’t be solved unless you’re informed on the issues and talk about them in meaningful ways.”

KET regularly “trains a spotlight” on many of these underlying issues — both through its national and local programs, such as recent KET Forums on youth mental health, foster care and violent crime — which have been very helpful in improving the quality of life for Kentuckians, Chandler said.

“There are a lot of competing discussions — and we’ve seen that writ large during the pandemic, with the debates over vaccines and wearing masks — so it’s hard for people to know whom to trust,” Chandler said. “But that’s the wonderful thing about KET. It presents all the arguments, and you know the information you’re getting is reliable and trustworthy.”

And unlike commercial television networks that compete for eyeballs to satisfy their advertisers, KET is not in the ratings game.

“A lot of TV networks get viewership by being controversial — telling stories that make peoples’ eyes pop — and the truth sometimes is a casualty of that process,” Chandler said. “But KET doesn’t do that. It strives to educate and improve the lives of Kentuckians by providing them with the facts they need. And in this environment, we need that more than ever.”