Huntington County ranks as Indiana’s 29th healthiest

Parkview Huntington YMCA Fitness Director Todd Latta talks to Teresa Wright (center) and Kathy Scott during their workout time at the YMCA. Latta says exercise is the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Parkview Huntington YMCA Fitness Director Todd Latta talks to Teresa Wright (center) and Kathy Scott during their workout time at the YMCA. Latta says exercise is the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Photo by Andre B. Laird.

Originally published March 29, 2010.

The statistics are in and Huntington County ranks as Indiana's 29th healthiest county.

The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood John Foundation conducted the study.

The "County Health Rankings," are the first to rank overall health in all 50 states, by using a standard formula to measure people's health and lifespan.

According to the study, researchers used five measures to assess the level of overall health or "health outcomes," for Indiana by county; the rate of people dying before age 75, percentage of people who report being in fair or poor health; number of days people that report being in poor physical and poor mental health and the rate of low-birth weight infants.
The measures encompass four categories; health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.

Other key health factors include smoking, obesity, binge drinking, access to primary care providers, rates of high school graduation, rates of violent crime, air pollution levels, liquor store density, unemployment rates, teen birth rates, access to healthy foods and number of children living in poverty.

Originally published Mrch 29, 2010.

One statistic that stands out is adult obesity, which is at 30 percent.

In 2009, Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation conducted a study that listed Indiana with the 16th highest rate of adult obesity in the nation, at 27.4 percent. The report also noted that the state ranked 31st highest in overweight youth (ages 10-17), at 29.9 percent.

Neighbor states fared no better in the study, with Michigan ranking ninth, at 28.8 percent; Ohio tying with Arkansas for 10th place, with 28.6 and Illinois ranking 27th highest at 25.9 percent.

The state of Mississippi topped the list at 32.5 percent (fifth consecutive year), while Colorado ranked the lowest at 18.9 percent.

Todd Latta, fitness director at Parkview Huntington Family YMCA, says there are a number of factors that contribute to the country's high obesity percentages.

"Most people don't realize how harmful obesity is until it's really bad," he states. "A lot of people come here to lose weight simply to change their appearance, but have no idea how much good it does for them overall."
Latta added that through the process of exercise, things change, starting inside.

"Exercise helps you to lose a lot of internal fat, fat surrounding your organs," he states. "That's something most people don't know or don't think about."

Latta says that awareness is one of the key problems.
"There are several organizations that do an excellent job of promoting healthy living," Latta states.

"The parks department and the walking trails is a good example."

He adds that local businesses and organizations are also starting to do their part in promoting a healthy lifestyle.

"Companies are starting to recognize the direct correlation between productivity and their employees' health," states Latta. "It affects number of days missed due to illness as well as insurance."
Proper diet and exercise are pivotal in making people healthier, and he adds that the YMCA is doing its part as well by offering programs, including a new nutrition class.

"The first step would be for most people to turn the TV or computer off," says Latta. "Then you'll be forced to find something else to do instead of just sitting around."

He adds that while most active adults and youth engage in some kind of sporting activity, sports aren't the only answer.

"Most of the programs we offer to youth do not include sports, as we want to expose them to other options that are available to them," states Latta. "Programs include youth yoga, Kid EX and our third grade swim and fitness class."

In regards to eating habits, Latta says a fast-paced society partially responsible for unhealthy diets.

"People are now more inclined to grab something from a fast food restaurant or eat pre-cooked meals, rather than sit down and eat a healthy family dinner," he states. "We like to encourage people to use the food pyramid chart to make better eating choices."

He adds that while it may be quicker and sometimes cheaper to eat unhealthy, the long-term effects on finances and quality of life are not worth the compromise.

Obesity and unhealthy lifestyles on the whole, is often related to socio-economic factors, and Latta says again that awareness is the answer.

"We need to do a better job of educating the public of how to take care of themselves on a budget, and that takes planning," he states. "It takes a little more time up front to plan meals, but it's a lot healthier in the long run."

Essentially, though, it comes down to personal choice, whether it's about weight issues or otherwise, Latta adds.

Detailed information on the "County Health Rankings" can be found at www.countyhealth rankings.org.