KDHE report affirms education, income, race and gender influence health risks

Survey of 10,000 Kansans examines medical maladies leading to premature death

By: - July 19, 2021 1:02 pm
Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says the agency's latest health report offers in-depth look at key medical and behavioral challenges facing Kansans. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says the agency’s latest health report offers in-depth look at key medical and behavioral challenges facing Kansans. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The state’s newly released survey of public health revealed more than one-third of 18- to 24-year-old adults hadn’t undergone a cholesterol test in the past five years.

But one of 10 Kansans in that age group who were tested had high levels of cholesterol that could promote fatty deposits in blood vessels and increase risk of  heart disease. The overall five-year testing rate for cholesterol in Kansas climbed to 85.5%, with a statewide positivity rate of 34.9% and greatest incidence among elderly, disabled, low-income, minority men.

The trove of information in the report produced by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment offered insight into medical and behavioral challenges based on 10,000 telephone interviews conducted throughout 2019. The survey performed since the 1990s in Kansas with support from nonprofit health foundations and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention touched on incidence of cancer, stroke and obesity. It offered an update on access to health services, immunizations and depression. The influence of binge drinking and tobacco use also was examined.

“Having data to use helps us shape the efforts of many state health programs and to partner with Kansans to improve their health,” said Julie Sergeant, who directs the Kansas version of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

KDHE reported one-third of Kansas adults in 2019 had been diagnosed with hypertension, one-fourth with arthritis, one in 10 with asthma, one of 13 with cancer, one in 25 with heart disease and one of 33 with stroke.

Julie Sergeant, who directs the Kansas version of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, says the Kansas Department of Health and Environment report helps shape state health programs and to partner with organizations and individuals to improve their health. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)
Julie Sergeant, who directs the Kansas version of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, says the Kansas Department of Health and Environment report helps shape state programs and to partner with organizations and individuals to improve health outcomes. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

Thirty-five percent of Kansas adults in the survey were obese, despite a goal of lowering that to 30.5%. Incidence of obesity generally was influenced income, race, education and gender. The percentage categorized as obese was 40.2% among those making under $15,000 annually and 35.3% among individuals making more than $50,000 per year. Forty-five percent of Blacks in Kansas were diagnosed as obese, while the rate was 36.2% for Hispanics was 35.4% for whites. Men were more susceptible: 36.4% to 34%. In terms of education, high school dropouts had a 31.9% rate and college graduates came in at 31.2%.

Feeding into those figures was a finding that one in four adults living in the state declined to participate in a leisure-time physical activity.

Lee Norman, a physician and secretary of KDHE, said the study assisted the state with monitoring of leading contributors to morbidity and premature death. It also served to help Kansas officials track health trends, measure public opinion and influence policy development, he said.

Obesity and smoking are contributors to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Programs designed to bring about behavioral changes to reduce obesity and smoking could reduce the burden of such chronic diseases, KDHE said.

KDHE’s study indicated 16.2% of Kansans smoked cigarettes, with higher usage among people with an annual household incomes below $15,000. KDHE reported a person who didn’t graduate from high school was more than five times as likely to smoke cigarettes than a person who graduated from college. An individual with a disability was three times as likely to smoke as a person without a disability.

The report showed smoking of tobacco in Kansas fluctuated by age: 18-24, 13.2%; 25-34, 20.9%; 35-44, 21.6%; 45-54, 16.7%; 55-64, 18.3; and 65 or more, 8.3%.

KDHE’s report said 87.6% of the Kansas population had medical insurance and the proportion with a usual primary-care provider stood at 78.2% in 2019. Adults without a high school degree were nearly six times less likely to have health coverage than people with a college diploma.

Gov. Laura Kelly has worked unsuccessfully to persuade the Kansas Legislature to expand eligibility for Medicaid to lower-income Kansans who struggle to find affordable, quality health care.

The percentage of Kansas adults who declined to be immunized against influenza in the 12 months prior to being surveyed in 2019 was greater among people lacking health insurance, the survey said. The report showed 46.2% of adults not living in an institution were vaccinated for seasonal influenza, which was well below the state’s goal of 70%.

This type of vaccination hesitancy has been evident during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021, which portions of the population declining coronavirus shots despite a surge in a more aggressive variant of the virus .

In terms of substance abuse, the percentage of Kansas adults who said they had engaged in binge drinking during the previous 30 days was higher among men than women. The rate was 22.9% for men compared to 12% for women. The overall figure was 17.4%, based on the survey.

In the state’s 2019 survey, one of every five Kansas adults said they had been diagnosed with depression. Women were nearly twice as likely to receive that diagnosis with females at 25.3% and males at 14.3%. Thirty-six percent of people earning less than $15,000 annually were medically depressed, while 15% of those earning $50,000 or greater were said to be in that condition.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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