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Our health is killing us

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


Keep your clothes on, but it is time for a little private self-examination…countywide. Each one of us needs to take a serious look at what we are doing to ourselves, and our politicians must examine what they are doing to the community.

In April, the Allen County Health Commissioner, Deborah McMahan, MD, told us to get serious about the way we live our lives and the way community healthcare — not to mention social services, education and economic development — is organized. The information she passed on says we are killing ourselves through bad habits and slowly dragging down our community to “third-world” status. No more “a great place to raise a family.”

But her news release fell on deaf ears. Our annual check shows we have a lump — a big, fat, self-inflicted lump growing bigger by the year, and we approach the problem in a wistful state of denial.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Johnson & Johnson people, compared health statistics from around the country and provided the results to health care professionals and posted same on-line.

Those results point out that our collective health in Allen County is more dismal than we are willing to believe. Allen County ranks well down the list among Indiana counties, and Indiana ranks low, low, low compared to other states. Real low. Disgustingly low and getting lower. Add to that a low ranking for the US vis-a-vis health care in other “developed” nations and you get a picture that suggests Zimbabweans might feel right at home here.

Here are some of the stats:

— We Fort Wayners die much sooner than the national average,
— We report poor health 30% higher than the national average,
— We smoke 60%more than the rest of the nation,
— We drink twice the national average and 10% more than our fellow Hoosiers
— But our young people are curious: to wit, we “score” twice the national average for teen pregnancy, and about 10% higher than the state average. Consequently, we are over six times higher than the national average for sexually transmitted infections, 65% higher than the state;
— It seems to weigh on us: we suffer “poor mental health days” 60% more than average Americans.
— Perhaps our poor health results are because the number of primary care physicians here is half that of the rest of the country and less than the rest of Indiana, that despite our economic development wizards who like to tout our community as a “regional healthcare center.”

More than part of this festering problem can be attributed to education. Indiana lags the country in educational attainment. Lags is a kind euphemism for near the bottom of the table. We are 47th out of 50. We now rub shoulders with those bastions of progressivism: Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi.

— Our local high school graduation rate is some 20% lower than the national average, but a bit higher than the average in Indiana;
— We boast fewer people who have “some college” than the national average, but more than Indiana;
— A recent study reported in the Wall Street Journal put us near the bottom of the country, 42nd, in college grads, and 36th in ratio of college grads to drop outs.

Now that doesn't mean we are as dumb, it just means we have less education upon which to make decisions. This may explain the stubbornness of Hoosiers, the old, "don't confuse me with the facts, I’ve made up my mind."

Maybe this lack of education is what leads to higher rates of smoking. We are the sixth worst. Remember the fight over smoking in bars and public places? Remember the hate directed at a former councilman for pushing his “no-smoking” ordinance, as if minimum wage jobs are more important than the long-term consequences of cancer? Another former City Councilman, Ben Eisbart, reminded me that ash trays were the norm at council as recently as the 1980s, when the likes of John Nuchols and Mike Burns used to blow smoke at the opposition, literally.

Our burgeoning obesity in Allen County comes, in great part, according to the health commissioner, from unhappiness. Eating soothes the soul, a Big Mac is now “comfort food.” We consume a disproportionate share of soothing "nutrition" at places where nutrition is clearly an after-though, included in marketing materials as a penance. Tomatoes, as tasteless as Jimmy Kimmel, bathed in gas to turn them red are what the fast food joints call nutrition. It is not.

We could point the finger all over the place, at a dozen different causes, but as the health commissioner noted, we live in a free land, meaning we are free to do stupid things, just as well as making rational, logic decisions. Turn to the mirror and point. Consider a city council that gives tax breaks for a medical practice to move from one side of the Lutheran Hospital campus to a newly created economic revitalization zone on the other side of campus.

The cause is really us. We prefer to be dumb and careless as a community. But, it is a great place to raise a family, and if we say it enough we might believe it.

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