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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE: Sameer Urs and his fellow Canterbury students Jump Rope For Heart to benefit the American Heart Association.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 1:00 am

County could be much healthier

Mediocre rankings not in line with resources

RON SHAWGO | The Journal Gazette

Area Health Rankings

Based on Indiana's 92 counties:

Health outcomes Health factors

County 2017 2018 2017 2018

Adams 20 17 32 47

Allen 44 47 53 37

DeKalb 34 25 35 29

Huntington 33 33 17 36

Kosciusko 30 29 34 24

Noble 43 26 50 51

Steuben 21 16 41 38

Wells 29 28 10 8

Whitley 12 14 11 12


Health outcomes: How long people live and how healthy people feel

Health factors: Health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic, and physical environmental factors

Source: 2018 County Health Rankings; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute

For Allen County, this year's showing in the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation county health rankings is a mixed bag.

Ranked against Indiana's 92 counties, Allen improved on one primary indicator – health factors – but slipped further on the other – health outcomes. Taken together, the county is nowhere near where it should be in keeping people healthy, said Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner.

“As usual, it demonstrates we have some serious work to do – we should be in the top ten with the talent and resources we have in Allen County,” McMahan said in an email response.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation collaborates with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute to produce the annual report. Communities use the rankings to garner support for health initiatives among government agencies, health care providers, community organizations, business leaders, policymakers and the public.

Allen County ranks 47th in health outcomes, which measures how long people live and how healthy people feel while alive. That's a drop of three positions since 2017 and eight since 2016. It's unclear from the data why the county declined in rank, because many of the health outcome measures changed little. Other counties could have simply done better.

Health outcomes include premature deaths, which in Allen rose from an estimated 7,200 per 100,000 residents last year to 7,500 per 100,000. The state had a similar increase.

Last year's report pointed to drug overdose deaths as fueling the increase nationally.

Health outcomes also include quality-of-life indicators such as physical and mental health and babies with low birth weight. Allen County's quality of life has consistently been ranked in the 50s the last few years.

The county's ranking for health factors – 30 measures relating to health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic and physical environment values – has been up and down. Ranked 44th in 2016 and 53rd last year, Allen County now ranks 37th in that measure.

The county made that jump with only nine of the 30 measures improving. The rest declined or were unchanged from last year.

“I bet the other counties did worse and that is why we improved because in some factors we improved and some we were actually worse,” McMahan said.

The county's teen birth rate declined from 36 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 reported last year to 30 per 1,000, which also is the state rate. Blacks and Hispanics have the highest rates, 51 and 49, respectively. The teen birth rate for whites is 23.

Identical to last year, the report marks as strengths Allen County's low adult physical inactivity (24 percent); access to exercise opportunities (85 percent); preventable hospital stays (52 per 1,000 Medicare enrollees); and adults with some college education (66 percent). All surpass statewide results.

The county performed best in clinical care, ranking 29th, with improvements in the uninsured, and the number of dentists and mental health providers.

The report also notes Allen County's health weaknesses: Adult smoking (19 percent); adult obesity (29 percent); alcohol-impaired driving deaths (32 percent); and sexually transmitted infections (545.5 per 100,000).

The five healthiest Indiana counties in order are Hamilton, Hendricks, Warren, Boone and Brown.

The least healthy county is Fayette, followed by Scott, Grant, Madison and Crawford, according to the report.