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Thanks, New York Times!

Kentucky Three Color Map

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been working on a presentation I’ll be delivering next month to the Kentucky Public Health Association.  I was invited to speak to the group after one of its leaders saw me deliver an early version of the “Connecting the Dots: Community Health & Economic Vitality” presentation we developed as part of the Partner Up! for Public Health campaign that officially concluded last year.

It was literally yesterday afternoon that I finished double-checking data and proofing maps I’ll be using to demonstrate the overlap between good health and strong economies in the Bluegrass State – and this morning The New York Times gave me a major assist by publishing a front-page story built around a first-ever look at county-level smoking rates.

The story was datelined Manchester, Ky., which is the county seat of Clay County.  Clay County, which was identified as having one of the highest smoking rates in the country, is also one of the least healthy counties in Kentucky; it ranked 118th for health outcomes out of 120 Kentucky counties in the University of Wisconsin’s 2013 County Health Rankings.  As important, it’s part of a swath of nearly 40 counties in eastern Kentucky that are home to the state’s heaviest smokers and least healthy residents, as the maps below illustrate.

Our map shows Kentucky’s healthiest counties in green and its least healthy counties in red; those in yellow are in the middle of the pack.

The Times’ map below uses a blue-to-orange scale to illustrate different levels of smoking; the darker the orange, the higher the percentage of smokers.  (You can view the map interactively here, and drill down to individual counties)  Kentucky doesn’t have any blue counties.

Of course, the parallels shown in these maps are entirely unsurprising.  But they do provide a fresh basis for a discussion about healthcare costs associated with smoking and tobacco use.  Their real value will come if and when policymakers in Kentucky and other states start responding to these patterns with further efforts to discourage smoking – and to require tobacco producers to help pay for the healthcare costs their products cause.

Copyright © 2015 Trouble in God’s Country

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