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Health and Wellness Newsroom 

Toward a healthier Louisville

Monday April 3, 2006

By Adewale Troutman
Special to The Courier-Journal

This is National Public Health Week. Now is a good time to reflect on some of the public health challenges and opportunities facing our city and our nation.

Over the past 100 years, public health initiatives have led to longer and healthier lives for all of us. The average American lifespan has increased by 30 years since 1900. One study asserts that 25 of the 30 years added to the average American lifespan during the 20th Century were the result of public health measures such as community-wide immunization campaigns, better nutrition for our children, the removal of lead from gasoline and the fluoridation of municipal water supplies, to name only a few.

Today, however, many of the major health threats to Louisville residents are such chronic diseases as lung cancer and heart disease. These conditions are often the result of lifestyle choices such as smoking, lack of exercise and a fatty diet.

Our Health Department has just released the results of a telephone survey of 2,000 adults throughout Louisville to get a snapshot of the community on a host of health measures ranging from access to health care, to smoking rates, to physical activity.

The survey tool, called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) was designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The complete report is available at

Among other things, the survey indicates that Louisville residents continue to smoke at considerably higher rates than do other Americans. Not surprisingly, the death rate for Louisville residents from lung cancer is 74.4 per 100,000 compared to the national rate of 54.7.

We must continue to help those who want to quit smoking to do so. The Health Department, with its community partners, offers stop-smoking classes at many locations throughout the community. If you would like to quit, I urge you to phone 574-STOP.

The Smoke Free Law that was passed by the Metro Council in August and that went to effect in November will also go a long way toward decreasing the cancer-causing effects of secondhand smoke in public places. The new law is also helping to change the culture of our city regarding the acceptability of tobacco use. The Health Department will continue to work to strengthen the existing law and to protect all Louisville citizens.

In our most recent Health Status Assessment Report, we learned that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the Louisville Metro area. Many of those deaths from heart disease may be attributed to sedentary lifestyles and not being proactive about our health.

While we still have a very long way to go, the Behavioral Risk Surveillance Survey report points to the fact that, a year after the establishment of the Mayor's Healthy Hometown Movement, Louisville residents may be engaging in more physical activity. Nearly four out of five Louisville adults reported participating in some form of physical activity in the last month. This was higher than both the rate for Kentucky and the rate for the United States.

Not all the health threats faced by Louisville residents today, however, stem from chronic diseases. Like the rest of the country and the rest of the world, Louisville residents are faced with the threat of pandemic influenza. Work has already begun to prepare our city for the possibility of bird flu. In fact, the Louisville Metro Health Department has scheduled an influenza pandemic summit for our city on May 8. The summit will bring together local representatives of business, government and medicine to continue planning how to meet such a crisis.

Disparities between the health status of communities of color and the overall population continue to exist in Louisville, as they do in the rest of the country. To begin to close the health gap, the Louisville Metro Health Department is establishing The Center for Health Equity. The center will also seek to set up best-practices models that can be replicated in other cities throughout America.

One of the first initiatives of the Center for Health Equity will be the establishment of Tommie Smith youth track clubs in west Louisville. Olympic gold medallist Tommie Smith was in Louisville in February to begin organizing the initiative. The goal of this initiative is to improve the health of our children, particularly as it relates to obesity, hypertension and aerobic capacity. We seek to strengthen existing efforts around track and field as well as establishing 10 to 15 new clubs comprised of about 40 children each. We hope to hold the first annual Tommie Smith track meet in Louisville sometime this summer.

Public health is not just the work of the Centers for Disease Control or of local or state health departments. Public health is creating the environment where all of us can be healthy. It is focusing on wellness rather than illness and disease. Working together, the people of Louisville will continue to design a healthier community to leave our children the legacy of healthier lives.

Dr. Adewale Troutman is the health director for Metro Louisville.