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Investing in Kentucky’s children

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LOUISVILLE - A five-year, $3 million initiative is under way in Kentucky to reduce the risk of chronic disease for school-age children as they grow into adults.


The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky will test innovative ways to lower childhood chronic disease in seven communities across the state. Susan Zepeda, the foundation’s president and chief executive, said the health of the next generation is at stake.


“The aim of investing in Kentucky’s future is to look to communities around the Commonwealth for solutions, for ways to bend the curve,” she said, “so that today’s school-age children have a fair shot of being healthier than their parents and their grandparents.”


The initial grants will help community groups in both rural and urban areas develop strategies for improving childrens’ health.


For example, in Ashland, the Kentucky Heart Foundation already does prevention and education programing. Its executive director, Regina Stout, said the Investing in Kentucky’s Future initiative will increase the heart group’s focus on children - in particular, the disturbing trend of Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure that is showing up in elementary-age kids.


“It’s primarily because of the lifestyle that they’re living,” she said. “They’re overweight, they’re inactive, and all of that is now starting to contribute to seeing what 20 years ago were strictly adult diseases in very young children. If we don’t take action, that trend’s only going to get worse.”


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 37 percent of children ages 10 to 17 in Kentucky - nearly four in 10 - are obese and that more than a quarter of the high school students - 27 percent - smoke cigarettes.


Zepeda said those are among many factors that lead to higher chronic disease rates in Kentucky - and the need to help children before they head down that unwanted path.


“We’re starting from the premise that children start life - for the most part - healthy; and it’s things that happen after that, as they’re growing up, that put them at greater risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.”


Zepeda said all those diseases lead to a decrease in the quality of an adult’s life and even the risk of early death.

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