Kansas City, Missouri, a city celebrated for its vibrant diversity and rich cultural history, grapples with significant health issues that earned it the title of the least healthy city in the state of Missouri, as reported in the United Health Foundation’s annual America’s Health Rankings for 2022.
This comprehensive report evaluated health in all 50 states based on 35 critical health measures, including factors such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, air quality, immunization rates, and accessibility to healthcare. Missouri landed in the 39th position overall, while Kansas secured the 31st spot. Furthermore, the study provided detailed rankings for metropolitan regions within each state, drawing on 23 health-related criteria.
Within this context, Kansas City, MO-KS, found itself at the bottom among the six metro areas in Missouri and fifth among the seven metro areas in Kansas. The report spotlighted alarming health statistics for Kansas City, including the highest rates of smoking, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and cancer-related deaths, as well as infant mortality, when compared to other metro areas in both states.
The city also demonstrated the lowest rates of immunization for children and seniors and had the smallest proportion of adults with consistent access to healthcare.
The causes behind the city’s troubling health outcomes are multifaceted, encompassing both social and economic factors. Poverty, education, income, and racial disparities have been key contributors. In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Kansas City’s poverty rate stood at 16.3%, surpassing both the state average of 13.2% and the national average of 10.5%.
The city also lagged behind with a median household income of $54,372, compared to the state’s $57,409 and the nation’s $62,843. Additionally, Kansas City housed a notably higher percentage of Black residents (29.9%), in contrast to the state (11.8%) and the nation (13.4%). These disparities often translated to greater barriers and discrimination in accessing quality healthcare and social services for these communities.
On the environmental and behavioral fronts, issues related to air quality, physical activity, nutrition, and substance use were prominent. Kansas City was ranked 25th among the most polluted cities for ozone levels by the American Lung Association’s 2020 State of the Air report.
These ozone levels contribute to respiratory issues and exacerbate conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Moreover, the city ranked 47th for particle pollution, which amplifies the risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Unhealthy lifestyle choices also played a role, with only 22.9% of Kansas City adults adhering to the recommended guidelines for physical activity, 10.7% consuming the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables, and 20.5% being current smokers.
Addressing the health disparities in Kansas City necessitates a collaborative and holistic approach from various stakeholders, including governmental agencies, healthcare providers, community organizations, businesses, schools, and individuals. Several potential solutions to these challenges include:
- Expanding access to affordable, quality healthcare, particularly for uninsured or underinsured residents.
- Allocating increased funding and support to public health programs and services that target social determinants of health and work to reduce disparities.
- Promoting healthy behaviors through education, awareness campaigns, incentives, and regulatory measures.
- Enhancing environmental health by reducing air pollution, improving water quality, and increasing green spaces.
- Encouraging civic engagement and community involvement in health-related initiatives and decision-making.
Kansas City, with its unique charm and opportunities, grapples with substantial health obstacles that warrant attention. By implementing effective and sustainable solutions, the city can work toward a healthier and happier future for all of its residents.