Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Secretary Lee Norman delivered an address titled “2020: The State of the Health of Kansans” to committees of both the Kansas Senate and House of Representatives this week, marking the first time a KDHE secretary has delivered such an address to the legislature.

“As the State Health Officer, it is my duty to look at the health of our state and provide education on what we as a state can do at an individual level, a community level and a government level,” Norman said, according to a KDHE press release. “Health isn’t just medical care. It’s our behaviors, our environment, our policies and our outcomes.”

Although nearby states including Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas were ranked worse than Kansas for 2019, Kansas has seen the greatest decline of any state in its health rankings since 1990 according to the latest report from America’s Health Rankings published Dec. 6, 2019, the KDHE release noted.

Health issues in the state include Kansas ranking 38th for obesity rates and 30th for smoking. The state ranks low on access to dentists, particularly in rural areas, and is in the bottom half of states for rankings on cancer, cardiovascular and diabetes deaths, and infant mortality, among other measures.

Norman’s presentation mostly dealt with issues affecting the state as a whole, but did include some regional information. It noted, for instance, that southeast Kansas was among the worst areas of the state for prevalence of diabetes. Crawford County has an 11.4 percent diabetes prevalence rate, the presentation noted.

The statistics Norman presented seemed to fit fairly closely with those available from other sources. A report issued last year from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and available on the website of the Kansas Health Institute (KHI), for example, ranks southeast Kansas counties including Crawford, Cherokee, Labette, Neosho, Bourbon, Allen, Woodson, Wilson, Montgomery, Chautauqua, Elk and Greenwood as some of the least healthy in the state.

Crawford County was ranked 85th for health outcomes and 88th for health factors out of 102 ranked counties, according to the report, while Cherokee County was ranked 88th and 91st, respectively. Labette County is ranked 101st for health outcomes — Chautauqua County is the only Kansas county ranked lower — and 100th for health factors.

The KHI is “a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization based in Topeka,” according to its website.

“What this data suggests is that Kansas needs to improve access to care –addressing the shortage of medical professionals, financial impediments and geographic maldistribution among others,” Norman said in his presentation, according to the release. “It suggests that we have unhealthy behaviors that need to be remedied and that there’s a need for active illness prevention and intervention.”

The health ranking data for southeast Kansas also seems to match up with statistics showing the region has had higher unemployment than the state-wide average. Norman’s “State of the Health of Kansans” address comes amidst a renewed push for Medicaid expansion in the state.