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(The Center Square) - A recent report by the United Health Foundation that Kentucky ranks last among the 50 states in both exercise and fruit and vegetable consumption. Not surprisingly, the state also ranks among the worst in terms of residents with sleeping issues, multiple chronic conditions and premature death rate. 

Overall, Kentucky ranked 44th in America’s Health Rankings 2020 Annual Report. The foundation states the report is the longest-running annual review of the country’s health on a state-by-state basis. New Hampshire received the best score. (https://www.americashealthrankings.org/learn/reports/2020-annual-report

The study found that only 4.7% of Kentuckians consume two or more fruits and three or more vegetables daily. The U.S. average was 8%, with Vermont leading the way with 14.1% of its residents meeting the metric.  

The report stated that diets high in fruit and vegetable intake help mitigate the likelihood for such chronic diseases as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. 

Ciara Ferguson, a registered dietician at Baptist Health in Louisville, told The Center Square she advises patients needing to increase their consumption to consider several factors when looking to add new foods to their diet. For example, if a person prefers crunchier foods, she may recommend they add raw carrots to their diet. Or, they should look to add fruit if they like frozen or blended drinks. 

She also said people’s taste buds change over time, so she encourages people who want to consider new vegetables go to supermarkets and walk the produce section when they’re not hungry or stressed about something. 

“There are so many more options nowadays,” Ferguson said. “They have so many kinds of grab-and-go items that are already pre-cut, pre-chopped and even spiralized.” 

The annual report states healthier eating has an estimated $114.5 billion impact on the nation’s economy. That includes medical savings, improved productivity and increased lifespans. 

For exercise, only 15.3% – or 1 in about 6.5 Kentuckians – get either 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. That’s compared to 23% of all Americans. Vermont, again, leads the nation at 28.5%. 

When it comes to adding exercise, Ferguson recommends starting small and building up, and she recommends they take a similar process in finding a new activity as they would a new food. 

“My first question is, ‘What do you enjoy, or what do you think you might enjoy?’” she said. “Because everybody is very different. Some people love group classes. Some people need the motivation of a trainer.” 

The foundation noted a study showing those who spend less time getting exercise spend about $920 more per year on healthcare. 

The annual report found that 15.1 % of Kentuckians have more than one chronic condition, compared to 9.5% of the country. Only West Virginia at 20% was higher. In addition, 41.1% of the state’s residents reported sleeping less than seven hours a day.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Kentucky lost more than 10,000 years of potential life. That’s based on people dying before age 75 per 100,000 people. Only Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia lost more years.