News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 1, 2013

Report: Vermillion, Sullivan among most unhealthy in state

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — When it comes to overall health of citizens, Sullivan and Vermillion rank among the bottom 10 counties in Indiana, while Putnam County ranks in the top 10, according to a national report that ranks counties in each state.

The fourth annual County Health Rankings is conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It uses a standard formula to measure how healthy people are and how long they live.

Nationally, the data show that unhealthy counties have more than twice the rate of premature deaths than healthy ones and that childhood poverty rates are twice as high.

The rankings allow counties to see how they compare from other counties within the state based on a range of factors that influence health, including high school graduation rates, obesity, smoking, and family and social support. This year’s rankings include new measures, such as how many dentists are in a community per resident.

Carol Hammond, administrator with the Sullivan County Health Department, attributes the county’s poor ranking in part to lack of education and lack of finances.

The county ranks 85 out of 92 counties.

“We are a depressed community … we don’t have any jobs here for people,” she said. Many people are on public aid and they may not take care of their health.

“When you don’t have money, you’re not as likely to go to a doctor for anything,” Hammond said.

Also, people may not be well educated about the importance of good nutrition and exercise. They’ll eat a lot of less healthy fast food, rather than take the time to prepare healthier meals, she said.

Also, she said, “We have a big drug problem here,” and those using drugs may not care about their health.

Other contributing problems include “a lot of smokers” in the county, she said, and “a lot of times our ladies who are pregnant don’t receive prenatal care,” Hammond said.

Vigo County ranked 65 out of 92 counties. Sydney Elliott, health educator with the Vigo County Health Department, attributes the ranking to such factors as obesity, smoking and chronic diseases.

Initiatives are underway to improve the health of citizens, said Joni Wise, Vigo County Health Department administrator. For example, United Way of the Wabash Valley, in partnership with other groups, is supporting programs to encourage healthy eating and cooking.

Wise believes the community’s clean indoor air ordinances are “helping tremendously” to improve citizens’ health.

Putnam County ranked 10th highest out of 92 counties in the survey.

Beth Glaze, administrator of the Putnam County Health Department, said the county has a good doctor/patient ratio; indoor smoking regulations are strictly enforced and the health department has initiated programs in schools to reduce childhood obesity.

The after school program, which targets grades 3 through 6, includes Zumba and nutrition classes. Four school districts are involved, and the program works on promoting a healthy lifestyle, Glaze said.

“We’ve done pretty well for a small county,” she said.

According to the report, Hamilton, Hendricks,  and Boone counties rank the highest in health outcomes in Indiana.

Clay ranks 29th, Parke, 44th and Vermillion, 84th.

“Statewide, we know that we have major improvements to make in infant mortality, childhood immunizations, obesity and smoking,” State Health Commissioner William VanNess, stated in a news release.

“The annual County Health Rankings provide us with an additional data set to show exactly where Indiana communities are struggling, as well as providing resources to assist them with their improvement plans.”

The rankings include a snapshot of each county in the state with a color-coded map comparing each county’s overall health ranking. There are also new county-level trend graphs detailing change over time for several of the measures, including children in poverty, unemployment and quality of care.

According to this year’s rankings, the 10 healthiest Indiana counties based on health outcomes are: Hamilton, Hendricks, Boone, Dubois, LaGrange, Wells, Brown, Tippecanoe, Whitley and Putnam.  The 10 counties with the lowest health outcomes are: Lawrence, Vermillion, Sullivan, Orange, Jennings, Starke, Blackford, Fayette, Crawford and Scott. For more about information or to view the report, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.