A vision for child health in Northern Kentucky

A report released today by Cincinnati Children’s and the strategic planning initiative Vision 2015 indicates that many children in Northern Kentucky face a future of poor health as they are threatened by unhealthy environments.

 If you’re not familiar with Cincinnati-area geography, Northern Kentucky (NKY) is a large part of the greater Cincinnati community and as such, is part of the Cincinnati Children’s immediate service area.

 The report, prepared by the Child Policy Research Center (CPRC) at Cincinnati Children’s, highlights needed improvements in six key areas: maternal health and healthy development, healthy lifestyles, mental health, access to care and oral health.

 Dr. Lisa Simpson was quoted in a news release issued this morning:

 “From birth through young adulthood, children are faced with a set of opportunities and threats that determine their developmental trajectory,” according to Dr. Lisa Simpson, a pediatrician, professor and director of the CPRC. “Growing up healthy in Northern Kentucky depends on a broad range of issues, including healthy birth outcomes, access to preventive services, high quality primary care, and an environment that both promotes and enables healthy choices and healthy living.”

 One of the most striking findings of the report is the fact that roughly 25 percent of women in NKY smoked at some point during pregnancy. This absolutely must be addressed.

 The influences of economic, social and physical environments figure prominently in this report. Cited are concerns about education and poverty as well as access to healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity in neighborhoods.

 Some additional findings of particular importance:

 Less than one-third of the population of Northern Kentucky lives in a walkable neighborhood (one that is pedestrian friendly and does not require a car to reach intended destinations).

  • Half of all Northern Kentucky births are to mothers with at least one of three major risk factors: pre-pregnancy obesity, lack of prenatal care, and smoking during pregnancy
  • Northern Kentucky ranks well below the rest of Kentucky in terms of breastfeeding; less than half of all newborns are being breastfed at hospital discharge
  • There are nearly as many convenience stores as full retail food stores. The study counts 191 convenience stores and 249 full retail food stores and notes the existence of areas considered “food deserts” with limited access to fresh, healthy food options.
  • Well less than 1 percent of land in Northern Kentucky is zoned for mixed-use, which allows the combination of residential and commercial uses such as small businesses, schools, and grocery stores, thereby providing daily opportunities for physical activity and healthy lifestyles.
  • 25 percent of children entering kindergarten in Boone County in 2007 were overweight or obese. Statewide, 37 percent of Kentucky children between the ages of 10-17 were overweight or obese, the third highest in the nation.
  • The number of children in Northern Kentucky with mental health problems is increasing, while the demand for services is not being met

 There are clearly some serious environmental and social issues at play in the region, but we hope that identification of the problems will indeed by the first step to stabilizing the situation.

 A partial list of recommended strategies to do so includes:

 Improving the overall health of women of childbearing age to impact child health.

  • Engaging local governments, including planning/zoning departments, to adopt smart-growth policies which provide safe and healthy environments for children
  • Reducing the number of uninsured children through education/outreach to the families of children already eligible for government health care programs.
  • Increasing access to and use of quality primary care, mental and dental care

 It’s a short list of broad objectives. And some might argue they’re too broad to be manageable, measurable or achievable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth aspiring to do it all.

 Vision 2015 partners will use the report to prioritize issues and identify resources to address the most significant challenges. And the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has signed on to support implementation of initiatives to meet these needs.

 Bill Scheyer, president of Vision 2015 is quoted in today’s release as saying:

 “Understanding these findings is an opportunity for residents to shape the health priorities of the region and pull together, as a community, to improve the situation.  It’s my hope that residents will see this as a call to action.”

 We hope so too, Bill.

We’ll keep an eye on it and let you know how it goes.

Kate Setter

About the Author: Kate Setter

Kate manages social media at Cincinnati Children's, a role that she loves because it gives her opportunities to help families find stories and pediatric health information that they want and need. Kate is the mother of a four year-old and a toddler, you will probably hear about them and their antics from time to time as well.

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