Council looks to bridge health disparities - March 31, 2017

Courtesy of • March 31, 2017

By Meredith Colias

About two years ago, seeing a need for a structured program to address the diet issues and lack of exercise that could lead to diabetes, Brittany Tripp said the Valparaiso YMCA decided to make a change.

Members coming in typically with a body mass index above 25 were issued a challenge to make drastic changes that would help bring them back from the brink of a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis: monitor calories and diet to lose 7 percent of body weight in six months and exercise at least 2 1/2 hours per week.

The program’s goals were necessary for people to avoid developing an incurable and chronic disease, Tripp said.

“That is a huge need right now in our community,” said Tripp, an associate director of wellness for the Valpo YMCA. “When you look at those leading causes of death, a lot of times diabetes is co-woven in those.”

The health needs of Northwest Indiana are also on the minds of representatives from Methodist Hospitals, Community Healthcare System and Franciscan Alliance as part of the Northwest Indiana Health Disparities Council. In its ninth year, the group will meet Friday at Avalon Manor in Merrillville to discuss the findings of a Community Health Needs Assessment Survey.

Tripp said about 300 of the YMCA’s 16,000 members regularly pay for the services of a physical trainer as a motivator to improve their health.

“Ninety percent of the people who want to use personal trainers … want to lose weight or be healthier,” Tripp said. “They know they need to make better lifestyle decisions.”

“It’s that piece that really helps to keep people accountable with” staying on track with diet and exercise, she said, “when they know their trainer is going to ask them about it at the end of the week.”

Echoing the desire to stay healthy, Chandra Robinson, James Saltanovitz and Jessica Woodward also spent part of the morning Thursday on the machines at Franciscan Omni Health & Fitness in Schererville.

Since she was 19, Woodward viewed working out as an essential part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, she said.

A sixth-grade teacher at Willowcreek Middle School in Portage, her usual 3:30 a.m. workouts have helped save her from becoming regularly sick and give her the energy to enjoy skiing and hiking with her husband, she said.

“I don’t want to be sick in a hospital one day,” said Woodward, 30, of Highland. “I haven’t been to the doctor in years.”

Hoping others can follow their path, representatives from local hospitals will meet on Friday to discuss what they can do to help close a wide number of health disparities that persist in Northwest Indiana.

Results from the 2016 survey released in December show Lake County continues to face elevated per-capita rates of chronic diseases such as cancers and heart disease. Many residents also face barriers to health care access such as access to transportation and meeting cost of care.

The prevalence of chronic disease “continues to be problematic,” said Craig Bolda, Community Healthcare System’s vice president of rehabilitation services. “We have to make more of an impact on them.”

Improvement areas include access to care; heart disease death rates; cancer death rates; nutrition, physical activity and weight status; diabetes; injury, homicide and violence prevention; access to mental health services, family planning, and maternal and child health.

Among survey participants, diabetes, obesity and substance abuse were listed as the top health issues.

Top causes of death continue to be heart disease and cancer. Heart disease deaths in Lake County continue to outrank state and national averages, with 186.9 deaths per 100,000 residents compared to 181.9 per 100,000 people in Indiana and 170.5 per 100,000 nationally, according to the report.

Cancer deaths are also higher than state and national rates. Lake County saw 186.5 per 100,000 residents with deaths from cancer, compared to 179.4 per 100,000 residents in Indiana and 167.1 per 100,000 residents nationally.

Among cancer deaths, a striking trend emerged: lung cancer accounted for 46.6 percent of cancer deaths, compared to colorectal cancer, 16.1 percent; female breast cancer, 15.1 percent; and prostate cancer, 8.8 percent.

The density of air pollution in Lake County measured at 13.2 micrograms of hazardous matter per cubic meter compared to 13.5 in Indiana and 11.9 nationally.

But residents had significantly higher exposure to potentially hazardous drinking water: 22 percent of residents were exposed to water that had crossed at least one health violation limit compared to 4 percent statewide and 1 percent across the country.

Adult smoking rates slightly outpaced state averages: 24 percent in Lake County, compared to 23 percent across Indiana.