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Friday, January 05, 2018 1:00 am

Indiana's overall health ranks low

Smoking, obesity are key culprits, according to alliance

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Indiana is among the least healthy states, according to a study that ranks states on health metrics including the percentage of smokers and obesity rates.

The America's Health Rankings 2017 annual report ranks Indiana 38th in the U.S. for overall health. Allen County doesn't fare much better, ranking 44th among Indiana's 92 counties, the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana announced Thursday.

The state moved up a spot from its 2016 ranking, the coalition of health care and business leaders said. Factors including an uptick in drug deaths and stagnant funding for public health have kept the rankings low, the alliance said. The organization is comprised of health care and business leaders from around the state.

Particularly poor is the number of smokers locally and throughout the state, alliance leaders said in a statement. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Indiana and costs the state $7.6 billion each year, they said.

“Beyond simply Hoosier health, these poor rankings directly correlate with the health of our economy,” said Brian Mills, CEO of Community Health Network and chair of the alliance. “An unhealthy workforce negatively impacts Indiana's ability to attract quality businesses, increases health care costs and harms Indiana's national reputation.”

More than 21 percent of adults in Indiana smoke, according to the report. That is higher than the national rate of 15.1 percent.

In Allen County, nearly 18 percent of adults smoke.

“It does not surprise me at all,” said Nancy Cripe, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County.

Her group has worked to cut the smoking rate by pushing for increases in cigarette taxes and advocating for tobacco-free areas around buildings and in places such as bars and casinos. High numbers of smokers typically push down health rankings, Cripe said.

“We keep being toward the bottom,” she said.

Drug deaths in Indiana jumped more than 7 percent in 2017 to 17.9 per 100,000 people, the rankings report shows. Deaths from drug overdoses in Allen County were 15.5 per 100,000 people, on par with national numbers.

Nearly a third of Indiana adult residents are obese, according to the rankings. The rate increased 3.8 percent from 2016 to 2017. Allen County's 30.1 percent rate of adult obesity is slightly above the national rate of about 29 percent.

Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said state funding for public health across Indiana is minimal and should be increased. Much of the money her agency takes in comes from fees and reimbursements from federal programs like Medicaid, she said.

Also, disorders like depression and anxiety can lead to unhealthy activities such as overeating and drug use, McMahan said, so mental health treatment should be a priority.

“If we could do those two things, we could start to turn this around.”

Complete data from the rankings can be found at www.healthierindiana.org.

mleblanc@jg.net