Warren County exceeds the state average for life expectancy, according to a study by the Center on Society and Health, but still faces challenges from factors that commonly affect health outcomes in Kentucky.
The average life expectancy for a person living in Warren County is 77 years old, one year older than the state average of 76. This information is based on actual death data compiled from 2002 to 2012 by the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. Warren County and the western Kentucky region are among the top locations for life expectancy in Kentucky, but are not ranked in the top for health outcomes or healthy living, according to County Health Rankings. The data show that 19 percent of people who live in Warren County have poor to fair health. There are several issues that affect life expectancy and many factors that contribute to those issues.
Crissy Rowland, planning, quality and communication branch director of the Barren River District Health Department, said there is no concrete explanation for high life expectancy and low levels of health in Warren County. The factors that affect life expectancy can offer some insight, though. While Warren County is a certified clean county, meaning it is a part of an environmental program to prevent illegal waste disposal, and there is access to safe housing and jobs, there are also negative factors that could contribute to bad health. These include rates of tobacco usage and unhealthy food consumption.
"When you look at the things that are killing Kentuckians, just to be very blunt, and shortening our lives, it's that we have higher rates of cancer and heart disease and diabetes," said Dr. Susan Zepeda, president and chief executive officer of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, "When you walk back to what's causing that, you find a lot of those things are related to diet and exercise, smoking and substance use."
Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, located in Louisville, partners with communities all across the state to collect data for research, spread health awareness and address factors that affect health. Life circumstances, education levels, access to jobs that pay well, access to affordable, nutritious foods and living in a community with strong smoke-free ordinances are some important factors that Zepeda said impact life expectancy and overall health in all counties of Kentucky.
"Once you understand what causes these health challenges, then you can identify ways to intervene and make your community a healthier community," said Zepeda.
The district health department covers Warren, Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Logan, Metcalfe and Simpson counties. The department has made many efforts to address the factors that affect life expectancy in the area. These efforts consist of events hosted by the department, including diabetes basics and freedom from smoking cessation classes.
Along with classes, the Barren River District Health Department partners with local not-for-profit hospitals and other healthcare providers to address the issues. Rowland identified the same issues of heart disease, diabetes and cancer affecting life expectancy in their area as did Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
Rowland said it is also taking measures to address drug abuse, addiction and environmental issues that are found to affect the region covered by her department. There are four stakeholder groups working with Barren River District Health Department, Rowland said. Those are the health care, school education, work and community stakeholders.
“We’re trying to make a collaborative effort to address these issues," said Rowland. "There are a lot of partners working toward a common goal, that is, improved health outcomes in the community."
Smoking is a significant contributing factor to cancer and heart disease. Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has recently released regional reports on wide-spread support for smoke-free policies in Kentucky with information collected from its Kentucky Health Issues poll.
Steps are being taken to prevent smoking, especially in the presence of children. The State Department of Public Health has made efforts to prevent children's exposure to second-hand smoke and tobacco use with the 100 Percent Tobacco Free Schools program.
The State Department of Public Health also contributes through acceptance of federal food assistance benefits, such as SNAP and WIC, at local farmers' markets and targeted pedestrian plans to promote walking throughout communities.
Another major movement to stop the contributing factors of shortened life expectancy is through seven communities that have partnered with Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Zepeda said Grant County, Clinton County, McCracken County, Breathitt County, McClean County, Perry County and Louisville are part of the partnership geared toward helping children to grow up healthier than their parents.
"There are a lot of good people throughout the commonwealth trying exciting and interesting innovations," said Zepeda.