Northern Kentucky Children Threatened by Unhealthy Environments

Vision 2015 Study Identifies Actions for Improvement

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

COVINGTON, Ky. – Many children in Northern Kentucky face a future of poor health as they are threatened by substandard nutrition, physical activity, maternal health, access to care and other environmental factors.

These are the findings of a report released by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the strategic planning initiative Vision 2015.

The report was prepared by the Child Policy Research Center (CPRC) at Cincinnati Children’s, one of Vision 2015’s community partners. It highlights needed improvements in six key areas: maternal health and healthy development, healthy lifestyles, mental health, access to care, oral health, and other threats. The report compares findings at county and ZIP Code levels.

Vision 2015 has been leading a diverse collaborative of organizations and individuals in Northern Kentucky to develop plans for ensuring a high quality of life and economic prosperity in the region. In January, the Livable Communities workgroup of Vision 2015 and the Northern Kentucky Health Department released the report “Vision for a Healthy and Vibrant Community,” which outlined the results of an 18-month long health and social needs assessment. This second report focuses on healthy childhoods, which are critical for a healthy and productive adulthood.

"From birth through young adulthood, children are faced with a set of opportunities and threats that determine their developmental trajectory," according to Dr. Lisa Simpson, MB, BCh, MPH, a pediatrician, professor and director of the CPRC. "Growing up healthy in Northern Kentucky depends on a broad range of issues, including healthy birth outcomes, access to preventive services, high quality primary care, and an environment that both promotes and enables healthy choices and healthy living."

One of the most striking findings is the number of pregnant women smoking – a significant contributor to premature birth, low birth weight and long-term health problems. Roughly 25 percent of women in Northern Kentucky smoked at some point during pregnancy, suggesting a need for an increase in smoking cessation programs for expectant mothers.

The influences of economic, social and physical environments figure prominently in this report. Cited are concerns about education and poverty as well as access to healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity in neighborhoods. Less than one-third of the population of Northern Kentucky lives in a walkable neighborhood.

Other findings of note in the study about Northern Kentucky include:

  • Half of all Northern Kentucky births are to mothers with at least one of three major risk factors: pre-pregnancy obesity, lack of prenatal care, and smoking during pregnancy -
  • Northern Kentucky ranks well below the rest of Kentucky in terms of breastfeeding; less than half of all newborns are being breastfed at hospital discharge -
  • There are nearly as many convenience stores (which typically offer processed foods over healthier fresh foods) as full retail food stores. The study counts 191 convenience stores and 249 full retail food stores and notes the existence of areas considered “food deserts” with limited access to healthy food options.
  • Well less than 1 percent of land in Northern Kentucky is zoned for mixed-use, which allows the combination of residential and commercial uses such as small businesses, schools, and grocery stores, thereby providing daily opportunities for physical activity and healthy lifestyles.
  • Despite its relatively high level of education and income, 25 percent of children entering kindergarten in Boone County in 2007 were overweight or obese. Statewide, 37 percent of Kentucky children between the ages of 10-17 were overweight or obese, the third highest in the nation.
  • The number of children in Northern Kentucky with mental health problems is increasing, while the demand for services is not being met

The report from Cincinnati Children’s will be used by Vision 2015 partners to prioritize issues and identify resources to address the community’s most significant health challenges. The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce will also support the implementation of strategic initiatives to meet these needs. A partial list of recommended strategies in the Child Health report includes:

  • Improving the overall health of women of childbearing age to impact child health.
  • Engaging local governments, including planning/zoning departments, to adopt smart-growth policies which provide safe and healthy environments for children
  • Reducing the number of uninsured children through education/outreach to the families of children already eligible for government health care programs.
  • Increasing access to and use of quality primary care, mental and dental care

Information in the child health report came from data obtained from government and community health organizations as well as surveys of Northern Kentucky residents and focus groups.

"Understanding these findings is an opportunity for residents to shape the health priorities of the region and pull together, as a community, to improve the situation. It's my hope that residents will see this as a call to action," said Bill Scheyer, president of Vision 2015.

About Cincinnati Children’s

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is one of 10 children’s hospitals named to the Honor Roll in U.S. News and World Report’s 2009-10 America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. It is ranked #1 for digestive disorders and highly ranked for its expertise in respiratory diseases, cancer, neonatal care, heart care, neurosurgery, diabetes, orthopedics, kidney disorders and urology. Cincinnati Children’s is one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Internationally recognized for quality and innovation by The Joint Commission, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, it has collaborations with hospitals and health systems around the world. . Additional information can be found at

Contact Information

Nick Miller, 513-803-6035,