A new report rates Fayette County as the least healthiest county in Indiana. Local groups hope to improve on that.

Fayette County is the least healthy county in the state, according to the ninth annual County Health Rankings, released this month by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

That’s a slippage of one place from the 2017 and 2016 studies. Scott County, in southern Indiana, had been ranked 92nd for the past two years but moved up to 91.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are at least two things going on to change it for the better.

One is that many local people are trying to improve local health outcomes. The other is that report in the data is two years old and might not reflect improvements that might have been made since then.

That’s the attitude of some local people who are trying to make a difference. One of those is Becky Marvel, community wellness coordinator for the Purdue Extension’s nutrition education program. She’s working with several local organizations on efforts such as the farmers market, school food and nutrition, food pantries and other efforts to feed people.

In case anyone thinks it is a widespread regional issue, nearby counties ranked higher. In fact, Franklin County, just south of Fayette, ranked ninth. Union County ranked 31st; Rush County, 51st; Henry County, 61st; and Wayne County, 87th.

Why is the ranking so important, Becky Marvel asked when she spoke with the Connersville Rotary Club on Monday. Beyond the obvious need to improve life for local residents, when a business is looking for a place to start or add a new location, it’s far more likely to choose a healthier place for its employees to live. As she said that, club members including Dan Parker, director of the Fayette County Economic Development Group, nodded agreement.

Marvel spoke about some of what is being done to improve. She encouraged club members to become involved in some of those efforts. One way is by attending a free workshop – lunch included – from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the John Miller Community Center which will be focused on making downtown a healthier place.

There, participants will work with Purdue Extension specialists and educators to learn about the vital role that parks, town centers and other public spaces play in the long-term economic, social and health of communities.

Rotary member Joel Long said many organizations and churches have been working at various projects to improve community health. It’s important, he said, that all work together.

Marvel agreed. Through a group called the Food Policy Council, Marvel and others have been working at trying to make a healthier community. Last week’s meeting of that group included volunteers and staff from food banks, the blessing boxes project and school food service provider Chartwells.  

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation compiled its rankings based on public health data.

Half of the score is based on “Years of Potential Life Lost,” based on 2014 data. The report states that 75 years should be considered as normal life expectancy. Using many different data sources, the report calculates that Fayette County residents lose an average of 3.68 years and it’s getting worse. For the county as a whole, the report states that 13,680 years of life were lost per 100,000 population. The report indicates that Fayette County scored nearest to state and national averages in 2003-05.

The report measures quality of life such as the percentage of residents reporting unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, household income, children eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, drug overdoses and many other factors.

It reports than 20 percent of the local population was in poor to fair health; that residents averaged 4.4 days of poor physical health per year and 4.5 days of poor mental health; and that 8 percent of births resulted in low birth-weight infants.

Hamilton County, which includes Carmel and Noblesville north of Indianapolis, is ranked as Indiana’s healthiest county.

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