Johnson County residents are smoking less and exercising more.
The health indicators show that the community is among the healthiest in Indiana, but the county still trails national benchmarks for unhealthy behaviors, such as obesity and excessive drinking.
The county was ranked the 15th-healthiest in the state in an annual report compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. That’s the same ranking the county had in 2013, but it stopped a two-year skid after the county ranked 11th in 2011.
The top three spots were once again given to Hamilton, Hendricks and Boone counties in central Indiana. Those three have been among the state’s top five healthiest counties every year since 2010.
Although the overall ranking for Johnson County didn’t change this year, residents did make strides to become healthier by slightly reducing health risks, such as smoking and physical inactivity.
Even a 2 percent decrease in the smoking rate represents more than 2,000 residents who have decided not to smoke or to quit, which is a major health accomplishment in a single year, Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County coordinator Jane Blessing said.
Johnson County ranked high for the availability of doctors and dentists and had a low percentage of babies born with a low birth weight. Residents have some of the best access to exercise locations, such as parks, recreation centers and fitness studios.
Central Indiana has among the most options for hospitals, doctors and specialists in the state, so residents can get care more easily than in rural areas. Residents in the region also have higher incomes than in other parts of the state, so they can afford to get annual checkups and treatment for chronic health problems, experts said.
Johnson County Health Officer Dr. Craig Moorman said he doesn’t put much stock in ranking one county better than another when it comes to health. The study allows local health groups to review the statistics and see what the county is doing well and what areas need to be focused on.
“I like the opportunity. It brings this type of discussion into the forefront. A lot of things are individual choice and gives people a chance to make better lifestyle choices,” Moorman said.
Being in the top 20 percent of healthiest counties is a good start, local health officials said. But doctors and health organizations continue to push people to improve their own health by exercising, eating healthy, quitting smoking and drinking, and trying to prevent chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high cholesterol, said Dr. Christopher Doehring, vice president of medical affairs for Franciscan St. Francis Health. Awareness programs at schools and local businesses are gaining momentum, too, as more than 50 local businesses now have wellness programs to encourage their employees to lose weight or exercise more.
Good health starts with the decisions a person makes on what to eat, how much they exercise and how they take care of their body, Blessing said. She added she was encouraged that the recent study showed improvements in some of those areas, especially adult smoking.
“That’s moving the needle. You don’t get to see the needle move very often, and that’s huge for a county of our size,” she said.
Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County continues to offer programs, including smoking cessation classes and weight-loss competitions, such as Dump Your Plump, and sends out experts with information on health topics including fitness and nutrition. The organization gets two or three requests per week for speakers by local groups or businesses, Blessing said. Participation in countywide walking programs, weight-loss challenges and the Get Healthy Franklin program are still growing.
Blessing said she also was impressed that the study showed 67 percent of county residents are within a mile in urban areas and 3 miles in rural areas of parks, recreation centers and fitness studios. That percentage is above the state average and higher than any other central Indiana county, except Marion County.
“We’re finally at that point where the awareness is high. It doesn’t have to be a lot. I don’t have to join a gym. The fact that there are 70 percent of residents that know there is something you can do nearby, I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Blessing said.
Hospitals and local health care providers also offer programs to get people to quit smoking or eat healthier because it helps prevent chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, Doehring said. Half of a county’s ranking in the annual report is determined by mortality, which is calculated by the number of years of life lost when someone dies before 75.
The county ranked 17th in the state and fifth in the region behind Hamilton, Boone, Hendricks and Hancock counties for mortality.
Early deaths are preventable when people live healthier every day, he said.
“Getting people to quit smoking and keeping their cholesterol under control and identifying pre-cancer symptoms, those things are all tremendously important at driving some of those mortality figures,” Doehring said.
Community Hospital South has year-round outreach programs but also focuses on particular health issues during awareness months, such as women and heart disease in February or stroke prevention in May, said Sarah Knisely-King, chief nursing executive and chief operating officer for Community Health Network’s south region.
For example, people can learn about what can lead to a stroke and get blood testing or risk screenings to find out if they are at risk and what changes they can make, she said.