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Shelby Countians must be doing something right, judging by the county’s steadily rise as one of the healthiest counties in the state.
Shelby County is up to third this year, according to the 2013 County Health Rankings of all states, complied annually by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The county was ranked ninth last year, 12th in 2011 and 22nd in 2010. In comparison, Oldham County continues to be considered the state’s healthiest county, and Floyd County, in Eastern Kentucky, is the state’s unhealthiest.
These rankings – from more than 3,000 counties from all 50 states – are compiled mainly by looking at health outcomes, such as premature death rates, low birth weights and how many days those surveyed felt bad physically or mentally.
Health factors include such topics as the percentage of adults who smoke, are obese or drink excessively. Also considered are counties’ health care climates, such as the number of primary-care providers present in the community and what percentage of adults have no medical insurance.
One example of a health outcome in which Shelby County stood out is in access to recreational facilities. The report found that Shelby County’s parks system scored higher even than Oldham County in the quality of recreational facilities it offers its residents.
Jeremiah Heath, director of the Family Activity Center at Clear Creek Park, said he thinks physical activity is definitely a key factor in maintaining good health, and the parks system has been working hard over the past year to promote that fact.
“Just really getting people to recognize that they have easier access to recreational opportunities, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “ In Shelby County, we have easy access [to parks], and a lot of them. And per capita, we have a larger space here than most counties, when it comes to recreational space. We have numerous opportunities for people to be active.
“Some weeks are definitely busier than others, but we feel that overall, our parks system is much more active in terms of people using what we have, especially at the FAC.”
However, Holly Husband, spokesperson for Jewish Hospital Shelbyville, while agreeing that, “It's certainly good that our overall health ranking has improved,” said that the data still shows room for improvement, especially if you look only at health behaviors.
“Our ‘health behaviors’ ranking takes us to 42nd in the state,” she said. “In all of the categories listed, we are at or higher than state benchmarks, and significantly higher than national benchmarks. Most alarming, 26% of our adult population smokes; 35% are obese; we are inactive, drink more, have a higher rate of motor vehicle deaths, and have a high teen birth rate. 2012 data that compares us to other states puts Kentucky at the bottom of the list when it comes to overall health."
Michael Collins, president of Jewish Hospital Shelbyville, now part of KentuckyOne Health, said these rankings have been at the forefront of discussion among local leaders.
"For the past nine months, our health department has been leading the way with a community conversation about health,” he said. “The plans they are putting in place in collaboration with the hospital, park system, local physicians and other community groups will be measurable and should result in future improvements in the overall health of our county."
Shelby County Health Department Renee Blair said that she thinks one reason that Shelby has shown improvement overall could be because so many organizations throughout the county have been working hard to educate the public on the importance of good health, and that is starting to pay off.
"Everyone is looking at preventive health care issues now," she said. "I think people are becoming more health conscious and they want to know the steps they need to take to become healthier. We’re doing a lot of education in the field; we’re doing a lot of activities with our kids in the schools, we are promoting healthy eating and increased activity. So it’s a combination of everyone’s effort, not just the local health department and our physicians, but everyone, as a whole."
Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty agrees.
"I don't want to single out any one group, but we have made a real team effort in this community toward better health," he said. "With everybody working together, the health department, the extension office, parks and rec, health fairs and screenings, so many people with the same goal have really made a difference."
Shelby County Extension Agent Sheila Fawbush said that only 2 percent of people in Shelby County have limited access to healthy foods, compared to 5 percent in Oldham and also statewide.
"I think people are ready to start staying away from fast food and start cooking healthy food. It’s becoming something that people are willing to make more time to make it happen," she said.
Fawbush said she was at Simpsonville Elementary last night (Thursday) holding a session on healthy snacks.
"We talk with the children and their parents about eating healthy," she said. "We have already been to Clear Creek Elementary this year and will go to one other school this year as well. We have been doing these programs for a couple of years now."
And Fawbush said the extension office has been increasing the number of classes it holds related to nutrition.
"We’re increasing our outreach and nutrition classes; we have twice as many classes available now," she said. "We are also going to start cooking classes soon, to teach people how to cook healthy dishes."
Fawbush said she thinks Shelby's new ranking indicates that residents are becoming more proactive regarding their health.
"We have been aware of health issues in the past, but I think we are starting to more actively address them for ourselves and for our families," she said.
The report also noted that the percentage of people who got diabetic screening in Shelby, 87 percent, was also higher than Oldham's, at 86 percent, or the state average, at 84 percent, a trend that Fawbush said she has noticed recently.
"We’ve been learning a lot about better nutrition and the importance of getting more exercise, but I think in the past year of two a lot of people have been noticing that obesity and diabetes are becoming more of an issue and they are saying, ‘I need to start working today to become healthier.’ So I think that people are starting to work harder on these healthy changes," she said.
Husband, in pointing out that Shelby's adult obesity ranking of 35 percent of the population was higher than Oldham's, at 30 percent, or the state average, at 33 percent, said that working toward healthy living should be an ongoing process.
"I just think that we shouldn't kid ourselves,” she said. “We still have a lot of work to do."
Shelby’s fitness vs. state
Obese adults (BMI of 30 or more) 35 33
Uninsured population 19 18
Teen birth rate 46 50
Pct. Children in poverty 19 27