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The Journal Gazette

Allen 37th in healthiest county report

Top in habitat; lags in lifespan, behavior choices

Allen County residents have a high-quality environment and plenty of access to exercise and health facilities – yet die at an earlier age than they should. Bad habits, poor decisions and social and economic factors are all to blame.

In the fifth annual County Health Rankings report, compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Allen County was ranked the 37th healthiest among Indiana’s 92 counties, up three places from last year’s rank of 40th. The overall rankings were compiled by tallying the scores in several areas, including length of life, quality of life, health factors and behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and environment.

Hamilton County was rated healthiest in the state, while Scott was named the unhealthiest for a second consecutive year.

Local counties in the top 10 healthiest in the state included Whitley at ninth, Wells at seventh and LaGrange at fourth.

Wells County ranked second in the state when it came to people living longer. Allen came in at 34th due to higher numbers of premature death.

As far as environment, Allen County ranked 10th in the state for having better drinking water, less air pollution and fewer housing problems and commuters who drive alone to work or drive long distances. And, although Whitley County’s overall health ranking was ninth in the state, the county scored 78th when it came to environmental factors.

Allen County had no notable percentage of drinking water violations in the past year, while 33 percent of Whitley’s population was potentially exposed to water exceeding a violation limit – far above the state’s rate of 2 percent.

But it’s the health behaviors of Allen County residents that have caused an unhealthy population, according to the report.

Although the county ranks high for having an abundance of health and exercise facilities, it also has high rates of obesity (32 percent), smokers (21 percent), people who drink to excess (17 percent) and higher numbers of sexually transmitted diseases.

The chlamydia rate per 100,000 people in Allen County was 564, more than the state average of 427 and much higher than Whitley (204), Wells (213) or Huntington (108).

Wells County had the least amount of heavy drinkers (8 percent) regionally, compared with 17 percent in Allen County and 22 percent in Huntington County. Huntington also had one of the lowest proportions of driving deaths with alcohol involvement (7 percent).

In northeast Indiana, the only one lower was Adams County at 6 percent. Regionally, LaGrange had the highest percentage of drinking and driving deaths at 39 percent, compared with Allen (33 percent), Wells (25 percent) and Whitley (21 percent).

Regionally, adult obesity was highest in Huntington and Wabash counties and lowest in Wells and DeKalb counties. Counties with the highest percentages of smokers included Huntington (26 percent) and Noble (27 percent). Wabash had the fewest smokers with 19 percent, while Allen County had 21 percent, both falling below the state average of 23 percent.

Allen and Noble counties had the highest numbers of children in single parent households in the area – both at 34 percent – while two counties with large Amish populations, Adams and LaGrange, had the lowest rates at 16 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

However, Adams and LaGrange also had high percentages of children living in poverty. Adams County had 33 percent of children living in poverty, compared with Allen’s 23 percent and the state average of 22 percent.

While 65 percent of Allen County residents choose to attend college – beating the state average of 60 percent – Noble had the lowest numbers in the area, with only 46 percent choosing higher education. Unemployment was also highest in Noble County at 9.2 percent, compared with Allen at 8.3 percent and the state at 8.4 percent.

But when it comes to violent crime, Allen County was definitely on top – and not in a good way. The county had a violent crime rate of 255 per 100,000 people, compared with 90 in Huntington County, 86 in Wabash, 79 in Steuben, 64 in Kosciusko, 53 in Noble, 46 in Whitley and 41 in Wells.

vsade@jg.net

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