ANDERSON – Madison County sits at the bottom of the heap when it comes to health behaviors.
For the second year in a row, the county came in dead last statewide in terms of things like smoking, obesity and physical activity in the County Health Rankings.
For Madison County Health Department director Steve Ford, it’s an opportunity to raise awareness of the problems, and to build momentum toward solutions.
“We know what the problems are, but when you’re going to change people’s choices, it’s very difficult,” said Ford. “The solution is very complex and very involved.”
The County Health Rankings are developed annually by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The data show that Madison County residents are on a downward health trend, one that Ford and others in the community would like to reverse.
“It’s a long and slow process. We have to get the momentum going in that direction,” said Ford.
Among the health behaviors the study looked at, virtually all are significantly worse in Madison County when compared to national benchmarks which reflect the 90th percentile.
The data show 37 percent of the Madison County adult population is obese, with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 or above. Statewide that number is 31 percent, and the national benchmark is 25 percent.
“Obesity is increasing and increasing rather sharply,” observed Ford.
The study determined that 30 percent of the county population smokes. Statewide that number is 24 percent, and the national benchmark is just 13 percent.
The percentage of persons aged 20 and above who get no leisure time physical activity is 34 percent. Statewide, 27 percent of the population is physically inactive. The national benchmark is 21 percent.
Other health behaviors where the county demonstrates higher rates are excessive drinking, motor vehicle crash death rate, teen birth rate, and sexually transmitted infections.
Causes are diverse
The county also took a step downward in terms of social and economic factors, sinking to 86 out of the 92 counties. In part, this reflects the rising level of child poverty in Madison County, also highlighted by the recently released Kids Count report developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The percentage of children 18 and under in Madison County living in poverty has shown a steady increase over the last three years to the current figure of 29 percent. Statewide, that figure is 23 percent. The national benchmark figure falls at only 14 percent.
On the bright side, the county fared a little better when it comes to availability of clinical care, placing 27 out of the 92 counties, despite the 17 percent of the county population which is uninsured.
“We have good doctors. We have ways to keep people well,” said Ford. He noted that the county boasts three hospitals, and programs exist to help the uninsured.
Not surprisingly, the bottom line for the combination of health factors is a downward trend in outcomes. Madison County has slipped five spots, coming in at 80 out of the 92 counties. This reflects people who aren’t living as long as they otherwise might, and people who are living with poor physical or mental health, as well as low birthweight babies.
The causes of the problems as well as the solutions are diverse and complicated, and they have not been ignored. Ford said a coalition called the Transformation Committee was established last year to look at the problems. It includes the county health department as well as Madison County Community Health Center, Community Hospital Anderson, St. Vincent Anderson, the Madison County Council of Governments, Intersect Inc., and state Sen. Tim Lanane. Madison Health Partners is a similar group that also embraces the business community in the problem solving process.
“They all want to be involved…. They are stakeholders,” said Ford. The coalitions have identified problems and causes.
“It’s been eye-opening. It’s given us a reason to come together,” said Kellie Kelley, public information officer at the health department.
She cited a number of factors that have contributed to the worsening health behaviors and outcomes including unstable economy, rural living, poor access to affordable, healthy food, ingrained cultural and social attitudes, and poor mental health.
Now, the groups will work with the Indiana State Department of Health to develop a strategic plan using evidence-based practices from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Members are set to get training in July. In the meantime, there are some initiatives already in place to help people combat poor health behaviors, but in the end, the initiative has to come from the individual.
“People have to want to change,” said Ford. He said he’s looking forward to having further communications with residents. He also encourages folks to follow helpful health department posts on Facebook and Twitter.
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