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Op-Ed: NKY is Not Healthy and That Should Change

As the president of the NKY Chamber of Commerce, I am often viewed as a cheerleader for the region.  

There are times that is certainly the case, but it is also true that the primary role of our Chamber of Commerce is to promote business growth and an improved economy, through leadership, and advocacy. That means, on occasion, we are required to speak some hard truths.

So, here is one of those truths: Kentucky is an unhealthy state. To say there is a lot of room for improvement is an understatement.  

Organizations that are leading the charge to improve the health of our region, the NKY Health Department, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Interact for Health, and many others, are imploring leaders at all levels to embrace health as a priority. We need to listen.

Despite years of warnings and policy recommendations, Kentucky remains at the bottom of nearly every major health category.

We are in one of the worst places by every major health measure, including cancer, obesity and infant mortality.

One in every three Northern Kentuckian smokes - nearly double the national average.

One in every four of our youth use tobacco and 20 percent of pregnant mothers!

Only 23 percent of NKY adults meet the daily recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption.

Less than a quarter of us do 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

We’re not eating well, we’re not exercising, and we’re using tobacco at levels well above the national average.  

Is anyone surprised our health outcomes are abysmal?

To make matters worse, we aren’t listening to the experts when it comes to proven health policies.

We still don’t have a recommended syringe exchange access program throughout the entire region. As a result, we have Hepatitis C rates 20 times the national average, a Hepatitis A outbreak, and nearly 100 new HIV cases in the past two years. Most of these horrible disease issues are due to drug needle sharing.

We don’t yet have universal tobacco-free schools, common sense smoke-free laws, or taxes on cigarettes that exceed surrounding states.  

Our policies need to encourage healthy habits. Right now, they don’t.

Why is this a business issue?  Because these numbers have a huge impact on our health insurance rates, the quality of our workforce, and ultimately productivity.  

But there is some good news when it comes to health.

We do now have limited syringe exchange access programs in Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties.  We expect these will help reduce the spread of diseases.

We are seeing an increase in increased physical activity efforts in schools, as well as new parks and trails.   

We are also seeing new efforts to help with cancer prevention, screening and treatment. Last August, St. Elizabeth Healthcare broke ground on a world class Cancer Center on the Edgewood campus. This $140 million dollar project is scheduled to open in the summer of 2020. 

St. Elizabeth Healthcare Executive Medical Director Dr. Doug Flora told me, “We are determined to reduce the incidence of cancer, save more lives through proactive screening and improve quality of life for survivors.”

So there are good people doing some good things to improve our health, but we need your help.

Businesses can lead campaigns to encourage important health screenings in their businesses and/or give employees PTO time to complete screenings that take more time.  They can provide healthy eating options for employees and support fun health related activities.

Everyone can encourage exercise and anti-obesity efforts, and strive to make our collective health a priority.

If we all begin to prioritize health and wellness, we can go from one of the worst places for health, to one of the best. And a healthy workforce means a healthier economy for our region.

Brent Cooper is the president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce