A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation confirms the significant health challenges in the Ohio Valley, including premature deaths.
It also lays out the often overlooked connection between health and housing.
The report presents a county-by-county breakdown of health outcomes and reveals significant gaps between the healthiest counties and the least healthy counties.
For example, the least healthy counties in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio had, on average, 31 percent more premature deaths than the healthiest communities.
A host of factors contribute to that gap. The foundations’ Senior Policy Officer Dr. Giridhar Mallya says those include poverty, lack of jobs and lack of access to health care.
He said housing is often overlooked as having an impact on health. The quality of the housing is an issue, he said, including the presence of lead paint or mold. But the stress of paying for even substandard housing can significantly impact health.
“People who face high housing costs face a tremendous amount of stress in their day-to-day lives and that stress can really build over time and create both physical and mental health problems for people,” he said.
According to the report about half of the children in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio live in poverty and in households spending half the family income on rent or a mortgage. That leaves little money to see the doctor or buy healthy food. Mallya also says evictions are skyrocketing across the country and that creates another set of challenges. When a family has to move in with a relative or to a shelter that can put pressure on kids.
“It's that instability that can make it hard for kids to get to school and then also to be ready to learn,” he said.