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Rural Blog: Nine Kentucky counties among 42 ‘bright spots’ identified by Appalachian health researchers

Appalachia’s major problems include poor health, but in the 420-county region there are counties that have better health than you might expect, given their socioeconomic status. The Appalachian Regional Commission issued a study Tuesday that points out 42 “bright spots,” 10 of them with case studies, that may suggest strategies for others in the region.

This map spotlights the 10 counties in the case studies. For all the 42 counties identified as “bright spots,” see below.(Click fro Larger image)

The 10 counties are Hale, in Alabama; McCreary and Wayne in Kentucky; Noxubee in Mississippi; Tioga in New York; Madison in North Carolina; Potter in Pennsylvania; Sequatchie in Tennessee; and Grant and Wirt, in West Virginia.

The “bright spots” range from low rates of death from strokes in the Kentucky counties, to low rates of congestive-obstructive pulmonary disease in the far-Southern counties (both part of the Black Belt region, originally named for its soil but now for its population). All 10 case-study counties “performed better than expected on premature mortality, injury mortality, and the prevalence of depression in Medicare patients,” the report says. Only four did better than expected on diabetes.

(Click for larger image)

Researchers at PDA Inc., a health management consultancy in Raleigh, N.C., and the University of North Carolina analyzed 19 health indicators in the 420 counties, identified 42 top performers, and chose 10 of the 42 (two from each of official Appalachia’s five sub-regions) for in-depth analysis, which included discussions with eight local journalists, who are named in the report. The 10 case studies are at are available online at www.healthy-ky.org. Data for all 420 Appalachian counties are at www.arc.gov.

While there are vast differences among the counties, the researchers identified common threads in the ‘bright spots:” Community leaders engaged in health initiatives, collaboration by public, private and nonprofit sectors; a tradition of sharing resources; local providers committed to public health; active communities of faith; and grassroots initiatives to combat substance abuse, which is especially prevalent in the region.

“This research offers evidence that local communities, even with modest resources, can influence in a positive way the health and well-being of their citizens,” ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas said in a press release. “All the counties profiled in this research share a sense of strength and resiliency. They offer concrete examples for other communities that may be encouraged to similarly leverage their own available assets to advance health and quality of life.”

Funding for the study also came from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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