The numbers for so long have been so bad.
Pick a source – the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, America's Health Rankings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Health – and it's clear Indiana lags behind other states in several important measures of public health. Particularly galling has been the state's inability to climb from the bottom of rankings on obesity.
Obesity rose from 28.1% to 33.9% among women ages 18-44 from 2015-16 to 2018-19, according to the most recent America's Health Rankings Report. In September, Trust for America's Health, a Washington, D.C.-based public health policy research group, called obesity a national crisis and listed Indiana among 16 states where the adult obesity rate was 35% or higher in 2020.
“As recently as 2012, no state had an adult obesity rate above 35 percent,” the nonprofit reported.
Indiana's rate was 36.8% – fifth worst among the states and Washington, D.C. – while Mississippi topped the list at 39.7%.
A new report on childhood obesity provides a glint of potential progress, however.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's “State of Childhood Obesity” study shows national rates climbing, while Indiana's fell slightly.
For 2019-20, 15.6% of Indiana children age 10 to 17 were obese, according to the report. That's below the 16.2% national average and a drop from 2018-19, when 16.7% of Hoosier children were obese.
Indiana bettered its national ranking, coming in at 24th worst. It was 16th worst in 2018-19.
The numbers don't reflect the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but researchers who authored the study say the coronavirus has worsened risk factors for childhood obesity.
“Economic stressors, food insecurity, less consistent access to healthy meals at school, combined with increased sedentary time, sleep dysregulation, reduced physical activity, and social isolation have made it harder for families to stay healthy,” Dr. Sandra Hessink said in a news release.
A decrease of slightly more than 1% in Indiana's childhood obesity rate doesn't sound like much, but it's a start for a state struggling to find ways to get – and keep – its residents healthy. A 16-member commission appointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb has begun tackling obesity and other myriad health problems and is expected to issue a report next year on possible solutions.
The Governor's Public Health Commission, which includes Allen County Department of Health Administrator Mindy Waldron, will hold its second meeting Thursday.
The decrease also, hopefully, marks the start of a trend toward healthier outcomes; obesity can lead to long-term problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
“Especially for kids – if they get off on a poor track, their risk to contract disease (later) is much, much higher,” Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter told The Journal Gazette in July.
The childhood obesity rate news comes as the state's COVID-19 vaccination rate continues to rise, slowly.
Waldron said Tuesday that shots given in Allen County rose to 6,000 last week, compared to about 3,000 the week before. Many of those shots likely were boosters and not first or second doses, but it's encouraging local residents continue to seek COVID-19 protection for themselves and others.
Incremental progress, whether in the fight against the coronavirus or obesity, is still progress. The problems aren't solved, but progress is welcome – especially after years of regression.