PRESTONSBURG — During an event Friday, Feb. 22, to increase awareness of heart health among women, participants also took time to talk about the health issues facing residents of Appalachia.
St. Joseph – Martin Hospital joined with the American Heart Association to sponsor the “Go Red for Women” luncheon at May Lodge, in Jenny Wiley State Resort Park. During the event, speakers told the audience that heart disease is the number-one cause of death of women and offered some tips for leading a healthier life.
But while heart disease is the leading cause of death nationwide, studies show that Appalachians of both sexes suffer disproportionately from heart disease and premature heart-related death. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2012 notes that many factors combine to produce not only higher rates of heart disease, but also diabetes, cancer and premature death.
“Particularly in the coal-mining areas of central Appalachia, there is a potent combination of greater economic distress, lesser educational attainment, decreased access to health care, limited availability of nutritious foods, higher rates of behavior-related risks such as obesity and smoking, and decreased use of preventive health services,” the study found.
The study notes that coal mining itself is not the problem, but the culture and traditions surrounding the industry seems to play a role in lowering the region’s health.
“Although our results indicate that mining is not the direct cause of those outcomes, they do not rule out the possibility that mining contributes to the development of the social environments and cultural practices that adversely impact health,” the study authors wrote. “This possibility seems most likely in those specific areas where mining is the principal industry. Likewise, our analyses do not rule out the possibility that some specific mining methods may have greater adverse effects than others on the physical environment.”
The results of poor health add up. According to the County Health Rankings published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Floyd County residents lose more than twice as many years of life as people nationwide. According to the findings, Floyd Countians lose 12,798 years of life per 100,000 people due to preventable causes each year, compared to 5,466 years nationwide and 8,781 years statewide.
Dr. Nida Mateen, an internist at St. Joseph - Martin and the Betsy Layne Clinic who served as the featured speaker of the event, recalled that she was inspired to go into medicine after noting that many residents of her native Pakistan were unaware of underlying health conditions until the problems grew worse and became difficult or impossible to treat.
Dr. Mateen says that, just as in Pakistan, many residents of Eastern Kentucky are unaware of health problems until they grow severe, but she said there are other concerns that lead to the overall poorer health of the region, including obesity, smoking and dependence on narcotics. Ultimately, she says educating people about their health and providing greater access to preventative medical care can address the problem.
“Every patient above 30 should have their blood work done at least once a year, to make sure we can catch early diabetes and early high cholesterol levels, and have their blood pressure checked,” Dr. Mateen said.