Improving the Health of Kentucky 

CHET’s mission is to synergize innovative, transdisciplinary and impactful research and training to improve the health of the most vulnerable residents of Kentucky and beyond. Kentuckians suffer tremendous health inequities--among the highest national rates of the leading causes of death, cardiovascular disease, cancer, substance abuse, diabetes, and obesity. Key health disparity data are included in the tabs to the right. CHET researchers aim to go beyond documenting health disparities and move to reducing or eliminating these health problems through intervention, implementation, dissemination, and translational science.

Health Rankings in America: How Does Kentucky Measure Up?

According to the 2019 annual America's Health Ranking report from the United Health Foundation, Kentucky ranked 43rd out of 50 amongst the rest of the nation in overall health. This was determined using data from five categories:  community and environment, behaviors, policy, clinical care, and health outcomes. Information sources: America's Health Rankings and State Cancer Profiles .


Kentucky ranked 45th out of 50 for poverty in 2020, 44th in per capita income, 39th in income inequality, and 35th in unemployment.

Drug Overdose Mortality

Kentucky ranked 41st out of 50 for drug overdose deaths in 2020.

Educational Attainment

Kentucky ranked 3rd out of 50 in 2020 for high school graduation with a 2018 high school graduation rate of 90.3%.

Cardiovascular Disease

In 2020, Kentucky ranked 48th out of 50 for cardiovascular disease, 46th for high blood pressure, and 49th for high cholesterol.

Mental Health

Kentucky ranked 49th out of 50 in 2020 for depression, 45th for frequent mental distress, and 30th in suicide.


In 2020, Kentucky ranked 45th out of 50 for obesity, 50th for fruit and vegetable consumption, and 48th for physical inactivity.

Smoking and Lung Cancer

In 2020, Kentucky ranked 49th out of 50 for smoking. Kentucky's age-adjusted incidence rate of lung cancer in 2013-2017 was 91.0, compared to the U.S.'s 58.3.

Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in Kentucky

In 2016, Kentucky had the 4th highest death rate due to diabetes in the nation. In this same year, the mortality rate for diabetes among African American Kentuckians was 48.5 per 100,000 and the mortality rate among White Kentuckians was 27.3 per 100,000. Also in Kentucky...


Diabetes mortality is the 3rd leading cause of death from disease among Black men.


Diabetes mortality is the 4th leading cause of death from disease among Black women.


Diabetes mortality is the 5th leading cause of death from disease among White men.


Diabetes is the 6th leading cause of death from disease among White women.


The number of newly diagnosed cases of HIV was 368 in 2018. Of these newly diagnosed cases, 59% were White Kentuckians, 30% were Black Kentuckians, and 6% were Hispanic Kentuckians. In 2018, Kentucky's population was 85% non-Hispanic White, 9% Black, and 4% Hispanic/Latino.

Infant Mortality

The infant mortality rate in Kentucky per 1,000 live births in 2008 was 10.1 among the Black population and 5.5 among the White population. Comparatively, the maternal mortality rate per 100,000 was 42.1 among the Black population and 17.2 among the White population.


The rate of obesity differ among various racial groups in Kentucky. In 2020, the obesity rate is the highest among Black Kentuckians at 41.8%, followed by Multiracial Kentuckians at 40.5%, White Kentuckians at 36.1%, and Hispanic Kentuckians at 31.9%.

Effect of the Affordable Care Act

In the years following the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Kentucky experienced strides toward health equity and a decline in the number of uninsured Kentuckians. Between 2013 and 2016, the uninsured rate among Black Kentuckians fell from 17.5% to 7.4%, the rate among White Kentuckians fell from 13.6% to 6.0%, and the rate among Hispanic/Latino Kentuckians fell from 32.3% to 20.0%.

Health Disparities in Appalachian Kentucky

Key findings from the Appalachian Regional Commission's "Creating a Culture of Health in Appalachia" report on the health disparities between the Appalachian region of Kentucky and the non-Appalachian region.

As compared to non-Appalachian areas in Kentucky...

Heart Disease

The rate of heart disease mortality is 32% higher in Appalachian Kentucky.


The rate of cancer mortality is 18% higher in the Appalachian region of the state.


The Appalachian region experiences an injury mortality rate that is 60% higher.


Appalachian Kentucky's rate of Years of Potential Life Lost is 34% higher.

Access to Care

The number of primary care physicians per 100,000 people in the population is 21% lower in Appalachian Kentucky.

Dental Clinic

The number of dentists per 100,000 people in the population of Appalachian Kentucky is, on average, 42% lower.

Hospitalizations from Chronic Disease

The hospitalization rate for heart disease in Appalachian Kentucky is 20% higher than the average rate in the rest of the state. Also, the hospitalization rate for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is 32% higher in Appalachian Kentucky.

Social Determinants of Health -- Poverty

The median household income in Appalachian Kentucky is 31% lower. Also, the household poverty rate is 26.7% in Appalachian Kentucky, compared to 16.3% in non-Appalachia.

Social Determinants of Health -- Quality of Life

The percentage of people receiving disability benefits in Appalachian Kentucky is 14.3%, a much higher rate than the 6.8% in non-Appalachia. Furthermore, the social association rate in Appalachian Kentucky is 25% lower.