In The Mountains Of Kentucky: Life Measured In Quality, Not Quantity

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Earlier this year, the Washington Post published an article about varying life expectancy rates in the United States. Of the ten counties whose life expectancy rate has dropped the most since 1980, eight of them are in Kentucky. Including from where commentator Emily Collier hails. 

In the corner of Letcher County, Kentucky stands the city of Whitesburg. Inhabited by around 2,000 people, this town is nothing but lively. It is home to many social events and festivals such as Mountain Heritage, Seedtime on the Cumberland, and Mayfest. It is also known for its many beautiful landmarks and mountain ranges like Pine Mountain, Little Shepherd’s Trail, and Bad Branch Falls.

There is a feeling of community in this area. Everyone knows everyone, everyone treats you like family, and everyone is kind. This community is filled by graduates, college attendees, workers, business owners, artists, writers, and photographers. These are the people that keep this area thriving. They do not flee when they read articles such as this one, they only become more motivated to show the world wrong.

There were a few reasons listed in the article that could explain why our life expectancy rate has dropped so drastically in the past few years. Health complications due to obesity, low income, and inability to attain affordable health care.

Obesity is not a common issue here in the mountains. We are raised playing or working outside in the mountain air, whether it be tending a garden or playing a game of tag with the neighbor’s children. We are bred to enjoy fresh vegetables like tomatoes, mustard greens, and cabbage. Even though some of us are not fortunate enough to raise our own gardens, we have a neighbor down the road that is usually willing to lend a helping hand.

Southeast Kentucky is stereotyped to be this poor and empty region, and while we are not a booming metropolis, we do have business. Whitesburg is a growing town, with small businesses and restaurants opening frequently. People from all over America travel here to experience mountain life and culture here in Appalachia.

Image: Emily Collier

Although most of us are not considered poor, we are middle-class citizens. We do what we can to get by. This means that some of us do not have health insurance to cover doctor’s visits, dental visits, or eye visits. I have had type one diabetes since I was around nine years old and I am fortunately fully covered, but if I wasn’t, it would take over $1,000 each month to keep me alive. Health insurance should be a basic right, not a luxury item. Other countries around the world provide free healthcare for all no matter the condition. To be one of the most advanced countries in the world, we have an altered view on healthcare.

We have statistics challenging us to leave our area and find a better one, but as the saying goes: there’s no place like home. There’s no place I’d rather be than right here in the mountains, and even though we don’t have as much as everyone else, we still make it. Never be ashamed of where you’re from, no matter how bad the world wants you to be, and never forget where you come from because you will be thankful for all of it one day.

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