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COMMUNITY VOICE

Indiana's low health ranking among all states shows there is work to be done

Monday, January 21, 2013 - 8:36 am

When it comes to overall health, Indiana has some opportunities for improvement.

That’s according to the 23rd annual America’s Health Rankings from United Health Foundation. The report, the longest running of its kind in the country, placed Indiana 41st among all 50 states for overall heath, down four spots from last year.

Here’s a snapshot of how Indiana fared in this year’s report:

Indiana’s strengths

Low prevalence of binge drinking

Low geographic disparity within the state

Low rate of uninsured population

Indiana’s challenges

High prevalence of smoking

Low per capita public health funding

High levels of air pollution

Indiana residents are getting some things right. While we should take a moment to congratulate ourselves for these successes, we can’t take continued progress for granted. Significant challenges remain.

When United Health Foundation first began ranking Americans’ health in 1990, smoking represented one such challenge. Nearly one in three Hoosiers, or 32.8 percent, smoked regularly. Education brought greater understanding of the risks associated with lighting up, but more work needs to be done given that 25.6 percent of Hoosiers self-report as smokers. We must turn more attitudes against smoking, and in the process, help many people improve their health and well-being while saving millions of dollars in health care costs.

Furthermore, too many Indiana residents are overweight or obese — and the trend is getting worse. Approximately 30.8 percent of Indiana residents are above what is considered by health experts to be a normal weight, compared with 14.5 percent when the rankings began.

Looking at our neighbors in the region, we see a similar picture: progress tempered by further challenge. Ohio ranked No. 35 this year. Michigan came in at 37, and Kentucky landed at 44.

As UnitedHealthcare’s medical director for Indiana, I have witnessed efforts statewide on behalf of the public and private sectors to improve certain health trends, such as the prevalence of obesity and diabetes, and to improve our overall health outcomes, such as reducing infant mortality and cancer deaths. In Indiana, for instance, we sponsor the UnitedHealthcare Heroes grants, which offer schools and youth-focused community organizations up to $1,000 to create programs that fight childhood obesity. This program is a step in the right direction, but as a community we must continue to do more.

This program and others are helping Indiana improve the overall health of our residents. Together, we can break down barriers to high-quality care. We can take on obesity. And we can win. It will take work, certainly, and time, but our health is worth that effort.

For more information about America’s Health Rankings, please go to www.americashealthrankings.org.

Jeffrey Beardmore, M.D., is medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Indiana.