Health

A new report shows nearly three-quarters of American adults report having at least one unhealthy behavior, such as smoking. But when it comes to multiple unhealthy behaviors associated with chronic disease, nearly 17 percent of Kentucky adults have three or more risk factors.

The report, “America’s Health Rankings Spotlight: Impact of Unhealthy Behaviors,” examines the prevalence of multiple unhealthy behaviors and inequities within groups. It was compiled by United Health Foundation.

The behaviors included smoking, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, obesity and insufficient sleep.

Ana Fuentevilla, chief medical officer for the United Health Care Community and State Program, said those five unhealthy behaviors, especially together, worsen the general population’s health.

“Just by working on one and eliminating that unhealthy behavior, you can really improve the health of that individual,” she said.

In Kentucky, 16.8 percent of adults exhibit three or more unhealthy behaviors, which puts them at a nearly six times greater risk of fair or poor health status than those with zero unhealthy behaviors.

Kentucky, along with Indiana, Alabama, Michigan and Mississippi, have the highest prevalence of multiple unhealthy behaviors among adults. Nationally, 12 percent of adults have three or more unhealthy behaviors.

Fuentevilla said an individual’s educational attainment and income level also play into whether he or she is likely to have multiple unhealthy behaviors.

Adults age 25 and older making less than $25,000 a year or adults who have not graduated high school are more likely to report having multiple unhealthy behaviors than those at higher income or education levels, according to the report.

In Kentucky, 27.2 percent of those 25 and older with less than a high school diploma have three or more unhealthy behaviors. But of those with a college degree, only 7.1 percent of Kentucky adults have three or more unhealthy behaviors.

“There clearly is a protective effect for education and higher income levels, and that’s certainly playing out in Kentucky,” Fuentevilla said.

And from the perspective of an insurance company, people with these behaviors and their related chronic conditions end up having high health care costs. The report estimates that about 71 percent of total health care spending is associated with care for Americans with multiple chronic medical conditions.