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Health Report

This chapter provides an overview of the general health of residents in Kenton County and explores the impact of land uses on the health of a community. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1962, 13.4 percent of the United States population was obese. From 2017 to 2020, obesity increased from 30.5% to 41.9% where the severe obesity also increased from 4.7% to 9.2%1. Obesity has been linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and strokes. The United Health Foundation ranks the rate of chronic diseases on an annual basis. Rates of heart disease deaths, deaths from stroke, and percent of population with diabetes help to determine the overall health of a county or state. The State of Kentucky is ranked 48th out of 50 in overall health in the United Health Foundation’s American Health Rankings. The Northern Kentucky Region (Boone, Kenton and Campbell Counties) is ranked within the top 25 percent of the state with respect to health2.


Lack of physical exercise is considered to be one of the major causes for the rise in obesity rates, as shown in Figure 12.

The Covid-19 pandemic is responsible for a detrimental impact on health within our communities. The pandemic, which is on-going as of current, has led to reduced physical activity, unhealthy lifestyle patterns and mental health issues3.  While there are many contributing factors to decreased levels of physical activity, the type of development that has occurred in recent decades has played a significant role. Referred to as suburban sprawl, this type of development is strictly oriented to the automobile and can be characterized by highly separated land uses with destinations miles apart, often devoid of a connected network of sidewalks or pedestrian connections, making automotive travel the only means of transportation for even simple tasks such as going to the park or a convenience store. By default, suburban development patterns have forced people into their cars and off their feet significantly reducing the amount of physical activity performed by individuals living within these communities.


Another contributing factor to the increasing rate of obesity is access to healthy food choices, specifically fresh produce, fruits, and unprocessed meats. These food items, which are essential to a healthy diet, are typically found only in supermarkets which are often located long distances from residential areas making trips to and from burdensome for those with access to a car and nearly impossible for those without access to a vehicle. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers a detailed Food Access Research Atlas online mapping tool that identifies low income areas that are distant from existing supermarkets. Coined “food deserts”, the lack of access to supermarkets prevents many individuals from making healthier eating choices, relegating them to processed foods that can be found at a convenience store. To be classified as a food desert, an area has to have a poverty rate over 20% or the local income average is 80% or less than the state/metro income average and the standard distance is ½ mile or more in an urban area, or ten miles or more in a rural area. Figure 2 shows the areas of Northern Kentucky that are considered to have limited access to healthy foods as of 2019. The existing food deserts in Kenton County are located in Bromley, Ludlow, and parts of Erlanger, Elsmere, South Covington and Latonia4.

To combat the increase in obesity rates and to reduce the negative health effects caused by obesity, the United States Department of Health and Human Services created the Healthy People initiative. The program provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. It establishes benchmarks and monitors progress over time to empower individuals toward making informed health decisions and measure the impact of prevention activities. To reach their goal the program has identified risk factors that, if improved, would significantly reduce the risk of chronic disease for an individual. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic smoking, diabetes, poor diet, physical inactivity, and obesity5. To combat these health issues the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Heart Association, the National Institute of Health and the CDC have all recommended that adults (aged 18-64) should receive 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on all or most days of the week. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child and adolescents (aged 6-17) should receive 60 minutes of moderate-intensity or more physical activity everyday6. The CDC states physical activity provides measurable benefits on rates of cancer, heart disease, dementia, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, obesity and high blood pressure7.

Source: US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service 4Source: US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service 4


Land use planning can play a role in reducing the risk factors listed above by providing the opportunity for residents to obtain higher levels of activity in their daily lives. This could be accomplished by developing and creating residential areas that are connected with employment and commercial centers via sidewalks, bike lanes and other non-automobile options. This would include commercial centers designed to allow for easy walking between stores, schools sited within walking distance of neighborhoods, inter-connected trail systems connecting residential neighborhoods and commercial centers, all of which would provide residents with the opportunity for physical exercise. Another way that land-use planning can help reduce chronic disease is by providing housing for the elderly and low-income close to healthy food. Providing more housing options closer to grocery stores can make accessing nutritious food easier for those with limited access.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, May 17). Adult obesity facts.
  2. County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. (2023). Kenton County, KY.
  3. National Library of Medicine. (2023, May 15). The COVID-19 pandemic increased poor lifestyles and worsen mental health: a systematic review.
  4. US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. (2023, July 6). Kenton County, KY 2019.
  5. Healthy People. Healthy People 2023.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, October 16). Physical activity basics. 
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 8). Physical activity helps prevent chronic diseases.,depression%20and%20anxiety%2C%20and%20dementia