University of Louisville professor thinks trees could help improve region’s health

Blame for Louisville’s high incidence of heart disease has long been attributed to a population that has unhealthy eating habits, a high rate of smoking, and an overall lack of exercise. In some circles, the city’s reputation has earned it an unwelcome nickname — Coronary Valley.

Dr. Aruni Bhatnager

But a new idea called “The Green Heart Program” seeks to determine if the simple presence of trees and more green spaces can improve overall health and lower the region’s rate of heart disease.

“We are testing the idea that if you increase green spaces in an urban community, you will see improvements in health,” Dr. Aruni Bhatnager, a University of Louisville professor of medicine who is leading the study, said in a Passport-sponsored article on Insider Louisville.

Dr. Bhatnager said the study will enroll 700 people living in south Louisville neighborhoods and measure their risk for heart disease. The project will then plant nearly 10,000 large mature trees in those areas, then go back later to see if the presence of green affects the health of the community.

To hear more from Dr. Bhatnager, please click here. To learn more about the Green Heart project, please click here.

Passport hosts Cancer Prevention and Care forum on Saturday in West Louisville

Passport Health Plan is hosting a Cancer Prevention and Care forum on Saturday, September 23, at St. Stephen Church in West Louisville.

The forum, which is free and open to the public, will include information about the importance of having a strong relationship with your doctor and information on smoking, as well as a number of free services:

  • Blood pressure readings
  • Kidney screenings
  • Vision screenings
  • Diabetes screenings
  • Flu shots
  • And more!

The forum will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the St. Stephen Church Family Life Center, 1508 West Kentucky Street, Louisville, KY 40210. For more information, please click here.


Kentucky once again tops the list of U.S. adult smoking rates

CDC imageOnce again, Kentucky ranks first for its adult smoking rates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the report, Kentucky retook the top spot from West Virginia in 2015 with an adult smoking rate of 25.9 percent; West Virginia’s is 25.7 percent, followed closely by Arkansas at 24.9 percent.

Smoking rates have declined across the nation almost 28 percent since 2005, from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 15.1 percent in 2015, according to the report, which is based on the 2015 National Health Interview Survey. Kentucky’s smoking rates declined 10 percent in the same time frame, from 28.7 percent to 25.9 percent, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a constant national poll conducted by the CDC.

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or one of every five deaths,” says the CDC.

The state’s high smoking rate also comes with a hefty price tag, as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids estimates Kentucky’s smoking-related health costs at $1.92 billion a year. The group ranks Kentucky 37th in protecting children from tobacco, and says 17 percent of its high school students smoke.


Kentucky could save $1.7 billion if smoking rate dropped to the national average, study says

No Smoking SignAccording to a new study from researchers at the University of California-San Francisco, Kentucky would save an estimated $1.7 billion on healthcare if it could cut its smoking rate to the national average.

Kentucky’s smoking rate is 26 percent, and the national average is 18 percent.

“What it adds to our knowledge is that we can save money quickly,” Ellen Hahn, University of Kentucky nursing professor and director of its smoke-free policy center, said in an article from Kentucky Health News. “We are not talking 18 to 20 years down the road. … If we reduced our smoking rate at least 10 percent, we would see dramatic reductions in healthcare costs in just one year.”

The UCSF study, published in PLOS Medicine, looked at healthcare spending in each state and the District of Columbia from 1992 to 2009, and measured the year-to-year relationship between changes in smoking behavior and changes in medical costs.

The study also found that smoking makes Kentucky spend $399 more per person per year on healthcare than it would if the state’s rate equaled the national rate. That was the highest figure of any state.


CDC offers tips for mental health care professionals to help their patients quit smoking

CDC imageAs part of its “Tips From Former Smokers” campaign, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a set of resources for mental health professionals to help their patients fight tobacco use and quit smoking.

Studies show that people with mental health conditions are more likely to smoke than those who don’t, according to the CDC website. They suggest that primary care providers (PCPs) and mental health care providers should routinely screen patients for tobacco use and offer evidence-based smoking cessation treatments.

To help them with these conversations, the CDC has provided a set of documents and resources to help explain how mental health care professionals can get involved and support their patients, offers suggestions about how to conduct a brief tobacco intervention, shares important reasons to quit smoking, and more. These are available online by clicking here.


Catching up, thanks to the Kentucky Health News independent news services

Inside Passport has been on a bit of a hiatus recently, but thankfully our friends at Kentucky Health News have been working hard to make sure nothing slips through. Here is a look at some key items that they’ve posted recently:

  • Colon Cancer Screenings: All too often Kentuckians don’t get screened for colon cancer because of fear, embarrassment, lack of access and cost concerns, but with March being National Colorectal Awareness Month it is a good time to reconsider these concerns, know that preventive screenings are covered by most health plans, and recognize that a decision to get screened could save your life.
  • Preventive Health: A study that looked at preventive health services among states in three categories found that Kentucky fell near the middle of the pack for most of the measures, but was in the top 10 for adult flu vaccinations and top five for prevention of high blood pressure, but in the bottom 10 for human papilloma virus vaccinations for males.
  • The future of Kynect and Expanded Medicaid: Democratic state Rep. Darryl Owens of Louisville has filed bills to keep Gov. Matt Bevin from keeping his campaign promises to dismantle the Kynect health-insurance exchange and scale back the expansion of Medicaid under federal health reform. Owens acknowledged that House Bill 5 and House Bill 6 would likely get nowhere in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans who support Bevin’s approaches. However, but the filing of the bills prompted a lively discussion among four legislators on Bill Goodman’s “Kentucky Tonight” program on KET Feb. 29.
  • Poll about Kentuckians’ health: Regardless of how Kentucky adults describe their health status, almost two-thirds of them said it would be difficult or very difficult to make positive changes in their health, citing time, money and motivation as their main barriers, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll.
  • Free school meals: During the 2014-15 school year, 104 of the 173 public school districts in Kentucky provided free breakfast and lunch to all students, with 610 schools and 279,263 children benefiting in the program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.
  • Smoking-ban bill: Despite early hope, the bill to ban smoking in Kentucky workplaces was likely dead on arrival this year.
  • Zika in Kentucky: After the first case of Zika was confirmed in Kentucky March 9, health officials held a news conference at the Capitol to raise awareness of the virus, noting that the state was coming up on the spring travel season.
  • Making Kentucky tobacco-free: An overwhelming majority of Kentucky adults, 85 percent, want schools to be tobacco-free, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll. But only 28 percent of the state’s school districts have “protected students, staff members, teachers and guests from secondhand smoke by enacting 100 percent tobacco-free school policies,” says a press release from Interact for Health, which co-sponsored the poll with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
  • Painkiller prescriptions: Kentucky has the nation’s fourth highest rate of painkiller prescriptions, at about 130 prescriptions for every 100 people, Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. The high rate of painkiller prescriptions is being blamed on a rising rate of overdose deaths, leading health and government officials in many states to call for a limit on the number and strength of painkiller pills prescribed by doctors.
  • CDC recommendations for reducing overdoses: Doctors who prescribe highly addictive painkillers for chronic pain should stop and be much more careful to thwart “an epidemic of prescription opioid overdoses” that is “doctor-driven,” the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said March 15.
  • Annual Kentucky county health rankings: The sixth annual County Health Rankings report shows little change in Kentucky’s top and bottom rankings, but there were a few surprises, with several counties showing up in the top 10 for the first time.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. For more information, go online to


Latest Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book shows how children are faring in all 120 counties

KY Youth Advocates logoThe 2015 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book – released by Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA) – helps take a closer look at how children are faring in your county, where your county ranks on overall child well-being, and what has happened in the last 25 years in Kentucky to help kids succeed.

The 2015 County Data Book ranks all Kentucky counties on overall child well-being based on 16 indicators that relate to economic security, education, health, and family and community strength.

“Governors and the Kentucky General Assembly made significant strides in policies to help kids over the last quarter century, such as the Kentucky Education Reform Act, juvenile justice reform, and ensuring more children have health insurance,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of KYA. “But we still face dire challenges. With more than one in four Kentucky children living in poverty; almost half of fourth graders not proficient in reading; and more than one in five mothers smoking during pregnancy, we have a long way to go to get Kentucky where it needs to be for children.”

Passport Health Plan is proud to be the Signature Sponsor of the 25th edition of the County Data Book. The 2015 County Data Book and county-specific profiles for all 120 counties are available at The County Data Book is a county-level counterpart to the 2015 national KIDS COUNT Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in July.


Fewer U.S. adults smoking cigarettes, but the majority of those who do are uninsured or on Medicaid

No Smoking SignCigarette smoking among U.S. adults has fallen to the lowest rate in generations, according to data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of the 17 percent of American adults who still smoke, most are in the Midwest and are on Medicaid.

The Washington Post examined the data and put together seven interesting charts that show who is still smoking. Among them:

  • From 2005 to 2014, the adult smoking rate declined from 20.9 percent to 16.8 percent.
  • S. adults who are uninsured or on Medicaid smoke at rates more than double that of people who have Medicare or private insurance.
  • The percentage of smokers age 18-24 dropped by nearly a third over the past decade, the sharpest decline of any group.
  • People with lower levels of education tend to smoke at higher rates.
  • Smoking among multiracial people and those classified as American Indian or Alaska Natives far outpaces that of other ethnic groups.
  • Midwesterners still smoke at higher rates than anyone else in the country.
  • Between 2005 and 2014, the number of daily smokers dropped from 36.4 million to 30.7 million.

To read the full article, please click here.


Teen Cigarette Use Falls but Marijuana use Rises, According to new CDC Report

No Smoking SignTeen cigarette and cigar smoking rates have dropped dramatically, from 20.5% in 2007 to about 7% in 2013, a 64% decrease.

However, marijuana use among teens has risen from 4% to 10% during that same time, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, “tobacco prevention and control strategies, including increasing tobacco product prices, adopting comprehensive smoke-free laws, and implementing national public education media campaigns, have influenced the reduction in youth cigarette smoking.”

“The nation’s remarkable progress in reducing youth smoking since 1997 is great news, but the battle is far from over,” Vince Willmore, vice president for communications at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told “This study reminds us that we know exactly what to do to further reduce smoking: increase tobacco taxes, enact smoke-free laws, fund effective prevention programs and implement hard-hitting mass media campaigns. These proven strategies must be continued and strengthened.”


Smoking Rate Continues to Drop around United States, New Data Show

no smoking logoThe smoking rate in the U.S. dropped to about 15% in 2015, down from 17% one year ago and about 18% two years ago, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The 2015 National Health Interview Survey report also shows that more men smoke than women, and blacks and whites are more likely to smoke than Hispanics.

Experts credit tobacco taxes, stricter smoke-free laws, and more powerful anti-smoking messages for the change.

“I hear from smokers all the time, ‘When I can’t smoke here, I can’t smoke there, when people see me smoke they look at me like I’m a pariah – it makes me want to not smoke anymore,’” Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y., told