COLUMBIA CITY — A top-10 finish by Whitley County can be good or bad.
Ranking in the top 10 in Indiana in pollution or illiteracy — bad.
But a recent study that ranked Whitley County near the top in the Hoosier state brought with the findings good news for local residents.
Along with several counties in the area, Whitley County was ninth in the state in overall health, according to the County Health Rankings, a project being conducted by the University of Wisconsin.
“This ranking is great news,” said Gail Altekruse, manager of physical rehabilitation at Parkview Whitley Hospital.
“It’s clear that Whitley County is in the fortunate position to have many social and economic factors that contribute to the high ranking.”
One of those assets is a state-of-the-art, well-equipped YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association).
“Just from the Y’s perspective, it’s good news in terms of overall wellness, stress relief and health and we have definitely seen an increase in use,” said Erica Miller, executive director of the Whitley County Family YMCA.
“A lot of employers are getting behind it for their employees with the rising health care costs. They’ve gotten behind the importance of health and wellness and are seeing the benefits.”
Altekruse pointed to the local fitness center, as well as other factors as mitigators in the county’s success.
“The benefits of living in a close-knit community that cares about our citizens are evident,” she said.
“The factors that enabled us to have this excellent ranking were a low teen birth rate and good family and social support.
“Our proximity to lakes and golf courses and our commitment to fitness and a healthy lifestyle, evidenced by our parks, the Blue River Trail, and the YMCA facilities, contributed.”
Miller said her facility institutes programs designed to encourage healthy choices.
“From the community’s perspective, we have partnered with Parkview Whitley Hospital and The Post & Mail for Whitley Weighs In,” said Miller.
Miller said the program challenges teams of four to lose the most weight over a given amount of time.
Recently, the program has been adjusted to provide incentive for the winning team to maintain that weight loss.
“So, Whitley Weighs In has been a huge program,” Miller said.
Miller said the county’s overall health can be attributed to more than just memberships at the YMCA.
“Also our amenities like the Blue River Trail and our parks system, those are just added benefits. We’ve seen a real push for overall health, not just weight loss.
It’s another stat that makes us all proud to be here, because every day it seems we’re seeing another example (in the news) of negativity.”
In developing the findings, the researchers looked at a number of variables.
“The low preventable hospital stays demonstrate the commitment of the medical community to provide excellent outpatient services and support for ongoing health concerns,” said Altekruse.
“Parkview Whitley Hospital participates in many outreach services that support Whitley County citizens such as a diabetes support group, Whitley Weighs In, medication assistance, and the Heartbeats Festival.
“Many physician specialists and extensive outpatient services are available here, saving expensive trips to larger medical facilities.
“This ranking is also great news for our Economic Development Council. Employers look for healthy communities and an excellent quality of life to locate new facilities.”
Altekruse added that another factor involved improved education about wellness.
“As people have become more aware of the risks and factors that lead to poor health, an increase in interest for wellness and fitness has been evident,” she said.
“While more people are aware of the risky health behaviors, we still have a gap between our desire and our actions.
“We still rank above the national benchmarks for obesity, smoking, and excessive drinking. Adhering to a healthy lifestyle is not easy, as anyone who has tried to lose weight or become more fit, can attest. We just need to take advantage of the great healthy environment we have around us.”
Regionally, while Whitley County ranked ninth in Indiana, nearby LaGrange County was fourth, while DeKalb and Wells counties were seventh and eighth respectively.