By: Savannah Smith | 08-24-2017 | News
Photo credit: Aviahuismanphotography | Dreamstime

Appalachians’ Health in Really Bad Shape

A new health report may be a cause for concern- if not alarm- for Appalachians as it states that the leading diseases are killing them at a higher rate than the rest of the country.

The leading diseases that Appalachians are more likely to die from compared to residents in other parts not just of the state but the whole nation are heart diseases, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, drug overdose, diabetes, stroke and suicide.

The Appalachian Regional Commission , Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky issued a report on Thursday titled “Health Disparities in Appalachia”, the highlight of which is what it called “dramatic disparities” in both health issues and outcomes in the 420-county Appalachian Region, compared to nationwide numbers.

The report is the first in a series of planned reports discussing health issues at Appalachia, which involves around 25 million Americans in parts of 13 states including Tennessee- from northern Mississippi to the southern tier of New York.

The report finds significantly high mortality rates in seven of the country’s leading causes of death, with the rates in Appalachians even higher in rural areas and low-income counties. There’s also the presence of higher-than-average rates of obesity, smoking and physical activity among Appalachians, when compared to the national rate. Close to a quarter of Appalachian adults smoke, compared to 16 percent for the national average.

Compounding the concerns for Appalachians is the reality that there’s also a shortage of primary-care and mental-health providers as well as specialty physicians and dentists. There are about 65 percent fewer specialists per 100,000 residents in Central Appalachia than nationwide.

There are less worrying categories, if not bright spots, however. Appalachia is doing better than the country as a whole in areas as: lower incidences of chlamydia and HIV infection, better monitoring of diabetes among patients with Medicare, and lower student-teacher ratios in school.

The trends on other areas are seeing disparities widen, though. The cancer mortality rate which was only at 1 percent higher in Appalachia than nationwide from 1989-1995, was 10 percent higher during 2008-2014. Infant mortality jumped from 4 percent higher in Appalachia during 1989-1995 period to 16 percent in 2008-2014.

Hillary Heishman, senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation discussed the implication of such disparities in health matters. She said: “These data bring attention to the growing health gap between Appalachia and the rest of the country. The U.S. can’t be healthy as a whole if we are leaving whole regions behind.”

Fifty-two of Tennessee’s 95 counties lie in the Appalachian region. There are also disparities even within the state including on deaths by injuries, by poisoning including drugs overdose, by strokes, by cancer, among others.

On average, Appalachian Tennesseans report feeling physically unhealthy 31 percent more days than Americans as a whole; 28 percent more days than the national average. Ap

palachian Tennessee has a suicide rate 32 percent higher than the nation and 22 percent higher than state-wide.


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