TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
In the Cumberland Valley, chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes are as ubiquitous as the beautiful mountains that define southeast Kentucky. I would challenge you to find a family who has not been affected by diabetes, obesity, or cardiovascular disease. Conditions which were once rare have become the norm, accepted as part of life in the Cumberland Valley. Over the past twenty years, rates of chronic conditions in southeast Kentucky have swelled just like waistlines, and today more than one third of the local adult population is obese and one in seven are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
But one fact stands above all others: diabetes, obesity, and many types of heart disease are preventable. Through a healthy diet and regular exercise, it is possible to not only pursue the most effective treatments known for diabetes and obesity but to avoid the conditions all together.
With the daunting challenge I face each day as a Health Department Director, I was so pleased to participate in the formation of a rural health network to provide local residents with more specialized medical options. Initiated by Spread the Health Appalachia (STHA), health professionals gathered in Manchester on Dec. 11 for a roundtable discussion. Bringing these professionals together was a success in itself, fostering increased communication and strengthening networks across the region. The need in the Cumberland Valley is great, but collaborative efforts among stakeholders like those discussed at the Manchester meeting will help set the region on a path towards better health.
Residents here in the Cumberland Valley face an uphill battle when combatting chronic conditions. Many parts of local counties are considered food deserts, a distinction reserved for impoverished census tracts where affordable, fresh food is difficult to find. Similarly, there are few safe, public spaces where residents can exercise. Lastly, access to specialized care for the prevention, treatment, and management of chronic conditions is severely limited.
A CDC-funded organization, STHA, is trying to make a difference in the Cumberland Valley. STHA, a partnership between Microclinic International and the Bell County, Knox County and Cumberland Valley District Health Departments, is working to expand access to healthy foods, exercise facilities, and access to specialized medical care.
The momentum is building in the Cumberland Valley and the seeds of change are being sowed. The time has come to buck the trend on chronic conditions and end the countless preventable, premature deaths. The Kentucky Department of Public Health recently released the Coordinated Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Plan (Unbridled Health Plan), emphasizing their commitment to turning the tide on chronic conditions. This Unbridled Health Plan is a call to action, reminding every Kentuckian that he or she is part of the team working to create healthier communities.
Nowhere does that call sound louder than in the Cumberland Valley. Between a planned increase in access to specialized care, and the expansion of the Microclinic diabetes prevention and management class throughout the region, the opportunities are in place for local residents to make the decision to live a healthier life.
No single person or organization can improve population health. Instead, collaborations, like the meeting in Manchester, set the stage for making the healthy choice the easy choice in Kentucky. The question remains, if the healthy choice is the easy choice, will you make it?
Susan Liford, Director
Knox County Health Department