Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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December 20, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Hoosiers need to change perceptions about health

Let's apply common-sense values to our well-being.

Let’s apply common-sense values to our well-being.

Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.

In those chats, we typically enumerate our various ailments and share horror stories of getting those ills treated.

Some folks might watch cable TV commentators take turns ranting for hours about the latest twists in the Affordable Care Act’s implementation.

By contrast, Indiana residents aren’t spending much time preventing the need for health care. Too many of us smoke. Too few of us exercise. We weigh too much. We breathe too much polluted air. Too few of us are bothered by those tendencies. In a state that prides itself in independent thinking — common-sense Hoosier values — we struggle with maintaining our own physical well-being. Snubbing good-health practices may seem like an act of independence, but too often that defiance puts an I’ll-do-it-my-way type in a medical clinic waiting room with, ironically, dozens of other people. We’ve all been there.

The previous paragraph is hard to accept, but it’s Indiana — just like mushroom hunting, basketball and the Indy 500. The numbers, from multiple sources, consistently affirm and reaffirm our profile.

“We smoke a lot. We sit a lot,” said Kristin Adams, director of the Indiana Office of Public Health and Performance Management in Indianapolis.

The United Health Foundation’s 24th annual report, released earlier this month, verifies her assessment. The foundation ranked Indiana among the worst states in overall health. Again. Indiana was No. 41 in 2012 and stayed 41st this year. The rest of the bottom 10 states are in the South — Tennessee was 42nd, followed by South Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and, the most unhealthy, Mississippi.

Indiana stands out in some categories, and not in positive ways. Only six states have higher smoking rates, with 1.1 million Hoosiers lighting up regularly. More than 1.5 million adults — almost a third of the grownup population — are obese, a huge jump from 15 percent in 1990. The state ranks 49th, almost the worst, in its levels of air pollution. We have the 41st worst case of physical inactivity. Diabetes is prevalent in Indiana, 11th from the bottom. Not surprisingly, the infant mortality rate tops all but five other states. Just eight states have higher rates of cancer deaths.

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