FRANKFORT, Ky. — In a few weeks, Kentucky lawmakers will convene the General Assembly, and health advocates are calling for new policies to address systemic inequities linked to poor health outcomes.
Vivian Lasley-Bibbs, board chair of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said the Commonwealth is at the top of the list for cancer-related deaths, smoking rates and depression, and trailing behind on rates of exercise, eating fruits and vegetables, and getting enough sleep.
She pointed out broader factors such as poverty and education are directly tied to residents’ health.
“And some of the areas we’re looking at include health-care coverage and accessibility, sufficient and equitable school funding, and we’re looking at access to quality pre-kindergarten and child care,” Lasley-Bibbs outlined. “Those things are really those predictors of long-term health outcomes.”
Lasley-Bibbs pointed to the pandemic as a glaring example of how racial inequities burdened Black and Brown populations with higher rates of COVID-19 exposure, hospitalizations and deaths. She added before the pandemic, Hispanic Kentuckians, who face greater obstacles accessing health care, were at higher risk for diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Lasley-Bibbs emphasized she hopes next year state lawmakers will consider how factors such as genderism, sexism and racism are impacting Kentucky families’ long-term health outcomes.
“Those are the true issues that are driving the disparity gap,” Lasley-Bibbs asserted. “We need to start thinking about those, instead of just thinking about those risk factors for chronic disease.”
She added the state continues to make strides reducing the use of tobacco among residents; a habit linked to heart disease, cancer and premature death.
“We still feel like that’s the number one area where I think we’ve made the greatest improvement so far,” Lasley-Bibbs observed. “We know that Kentucky is number one in lung cancer deaths, so that’s still one of our priorities.”
Data show packs of cigarettes sold in the state are on the decline, more Kentuckians now report they are considering quitting smoking, and about half of Kentucky adults say they believe e-cigarettes are just as harmful as traditional cigarettes.