Indiana public health continues slide

August 19, 2013

It’s fair to say that wellness has never gotten more attention in Indiana than it is now.

Trouble is, that attention doesn’t seem to be producing change.

Indiana has continued in the wrong direction on its rates of obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity—all key indicators of public health.

That’s both a medical and an economic problem. Employers already spend more per worker on health care in Indiana and the Midwest than in the rest of the country—about 8.6 percent of total compensation versus 7.8 percent nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The lack of progress isn’t for lack of trying. The latest data on public health indicators are from 2012, the eighth year of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ high-profile push for better health among Hoosiers. Daniels' efforts, at best, made things less-worse than they would have been.

Daniels made fiscal discipline his highest priority, so Indiana’s public health spending remained low. In 2012, Indiana spent $13.51 per person on public health, ranked No. 49 among all 50 states, according to the Trust for America’s Health, a public health advocacy group.

Indiana employers also have spent more time and money on improving worker wellness—and doing more than peers nationally, according to Healthiest Employer LLC, an Indianapolis-based organization that produces a Healthy Employers Index for more than 4,000 employers around the country.

Indiana’s employers score far higher on that index than peers for having policies and leadership focus on wellness, according to Healthiest Employer. This year, Hoosier employers scored 69.7 percent, compared with 55.4 percent for employers overall.

Rod Reasen, CEO of Healthiest Employer, said the scores make him optimistic.

“Societies, governments, and employers of all sizes will always have an interest in keeping their populations healthy,” he wrote in an Aug. 19 supplement to Indianapolis Business Journal naming the five winners of a healthiest employers contest in Indiana. “And I believe we will all discover that the health of a population defines its strength.”

If he’s right, then Indiana is getting weaker each year, according to survey data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, 31.4 percent of Hoosier adults were obese, up from 30.8 percent the year before. Indiana ranked each year as the nation’s eighth most obese state.

Five years ago, the obesity rate in Indiana was 27.5 percent, ranking 11th nationally.

Obesity is helping drive the diabetes rate higher. Last year, 10.9 percent of Hoosier adults were diabetic, ranking 11th. A year ago, 10.2 percent were diabetic, ranking 15th. Five years ago, 8.3 percent were diabetic, ranking 17th.

Hoosiers’ exercise habits got a bit better last year, with physically inactive adults dropping to 25.9 percent from 29.3 percent in 2011. But that’s still a tick worse than the 25.5 percent inactive in 2007.

In addition to these measures, rates of smoking and infant mortality also remain high—placing the state in the bottom 10 in each category.


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