Northwest Indiana must do more to combat unhealthy lifestyles, doctors say - January 19, 2020

Courtesy of Indiana Economic Digest

Written by Meredith Colias-Pete, (Merrillville) Post-Tribune

The Calumet Region needs to do more to encourage healthy lifestyles to prevent myriad health problems, according to a recent report.

Those were major findings included in the 2019 NWI Community Health Needs Assessment, a three-year local health report, discussed during a breakfast Friday at Innsbrook Country Club in Merrillville.

“No one alone can have a magic solution,” said Dr. Mustafa Nakawa, the keynote speaker, a specialist in family medicine at Methodist Hospitals.

About 60 attended. Many spoke of the need to encourage healthy eating and exercise — especially for kids in Gary lacking the same access to after-school sports or activities.

The region needs to tackle the larger social issues that affect patients, such as poverty, food deserts, lack of jobs and transportation, Nakawa and others said.

Nakawa suggested creating affordable farmer’s markets as one option to broaden access to fresh produce, which is not commonly found at dollar stores.

“This is about taking care of my people, our people, our city, our community, our region,” said Denise Dillard, Methodist Hospitals Chief of Advocacy. “It does start at the top.”

Major grocery stores in Gary can be few and far between — a Save More downtown, West Side Foods on 15th Avenue, Aldi and County Market on Grant Street, K-Market in Miller.

Store hours can help determine people’s health options, said Rodina Iacovacci, a Gary Health Department Surveillance Investigator.

The Aldi grocery store on Grant Street in Gary, for example, closes at 7 p.m., partly “to prevent robberies,” while most other locations close at 9 p.m., she said.

Northwest Indiana needs to have better paying jobs to lift the economic stress that encourages the lack of exercise and unhealthy eating, said Maria Turpin, a Community HealthNet Medicaid Navigator.

“Everybody knows to eat healthy,” she said. “They have two jobs, they don’t have time to do physical activity. Eating healthy, it doesn’t come in mind. The most important thing is feeding my kids.”

“A lot of the communities I work with, they say the same thing,” Turpin said. “I know I have to be healthy. I know sugar is bad for me. I feel like I can’t change it.”

Health advocates need to meet cultures where they are, with good alternatives when they encourage patients to give up sugar or heavy carbs, she said. As a Hispanic, if she was told to give up tortillas without an alternative, that’s taking away part of her culture.

“I’m gonna say, ‘Goodbye,” she said to laughs. “You need to give me another option that is healthy.”

Methodist Hospitals organized the event as part of its role in the Northwest Indiana Health Disparities Council, a joint effort with Community Healthcare System and Franciscan Health, created about a dozen years ago to examine local health needs.

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