For too long, Kentucky has struggled with high rates of lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, influenza, and asthma. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the lung health of many Kentuckians, and while lung diseases, infections and viruses like COVID-19 don’t discriminate, disparities persist within minority and rural populations across the state.

That’s why the Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care, and the Anthem Foundation are launching “Breathe Better Kentucky,” a year-long, multimedia public health campaign that aims to educate all Kentuckians on lung health issues and encourage visiting with a physician to discuss specific concerns.

The campaign will include the production of “Fighting to Breathe,” a three-part series that will air on Kentucky Educational Television (KET) this winter that examines the story of lung disease in Kentucky– the causes, the impact on those afflicted, and the exciting new developments in treatment and prevention. Hosts Renee Shaw and Wayne Tuckson, M.D. will speak with researchers, experts, advocates, and survivors who reveal eye-opening information that challenges basic assumptions about lung health.

In addition, Breathe Better Kentucky will utilize targeted social media and web advertisements to communities where lung health issues are more prevalent, public service announcements and radio advertisements, as well as messaging on streaming services. The campaign will also host educational opportunities for healthcare providers to discuss improving outcomes, new technologies, and eliminating health inequity.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to work with the Anthem Foundation to shed more light on lung health through the Breath Better Kentucky campaign,” said KMA President and pulmonologist Neal Moser, M.D. “With the COVID-19 pandemic not going away any time soon, and October being national Lung Health Awareness Month, there’s never been a better time to discuss the complications both COVID-19 and other diseases and infections can have on a person’s respiratory system.”

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Kentucky Medical Director Jeff Reynolds, M.D., agrees.

“COVID-19 has complicated an already critical issue in the Bluegrass, as lung health is a particular concern for Kentuckians in minority and rural communities,” explained Dr. Reynolds. “African-American men are 50 percent more likely to get lung cancer, and this disease also disproportionately affects those who live in rural areas due to greater tobacco use. Combine that with COVID-19, which has caused more deaths by population size, both directly and indirectly, in minority groups compared with white individuals, and we have a lot to be concerned about. We want to encourage talking to a physician about treatment and management plans.”

“It’s time to Breathe Better, Kentucky, and make improving our lung health a priority this year,” said Dr. Moser.