Shelby County Is at a Tipping Point

Shelby County is at a tipping point.

The phrase “tipping point” comes from epidemiology. It describes the point when an infectious disease is beyond any ability to control it from spreading ever more widely. The phrase has become popular in describing all kinds of turning points.  Shelby County is at a turning point with its health.                                                                                                                 

The March 2013 County Health Rankings show Shelby County dropping for the 4th consecutive year in its state ranking for health behaviors:  from 74th in 2010 to 88th in 2013. The majority of preventable deaths and illnesses are caused by behaviors such as tobacco use, unhealthy food choices, and physical inactivity. How will Shelby County be ranked next year if this trend continues? Will it be in the last place of Indiana’s 92 counties? How does this impact whether a business or family will want to make Shelby County their home?

Of all Shelby County adults, 26% use tobacco; 36% are obese; and 33% are physically inactive. Among all the counties surrounding Shelby County and the “donut” counties surrounding Marion County, Shelby County has the highest rate of tobacco use, the highest rate of obesity, and the highest rate of physical inactivity.   Shelby County is also aging.  Residents 60+ years old comprise 20% of our population.  They bear a heavy burden of chronic diseases both from the aging process and the culmination of poor health habits.   Shelby County is at a tipping point.

These disturbing numbers are not just found in our adults.  40% of the 5 year olds served through Major Pediatrics are overweight and 25% are obese.  These young patients are being treated for diabetes, heart disease, joint problems and other chronic diseases once primarily seen in older adults.  The Safe Routes to School National Partnership notes that– If the trends of physical inactivity continue, this current generation of children is expected to be the first to have a shorter lifespan than their parents’.

One definition of a tipping point is the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development.  Does this describe Shelby County?  Should it describe Shelby County?

Per the Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana spent 3.5 billion in obesity-related health care costs and lost productivity in 2012.  Research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation projects that if current trends continue; by 2030 56% of Indiana’s residents will likely be obese.  Shelby County currently has a higher rate of obesity than the state.  Using the same rate of increase, in less than 20 years, 65% of Shelby County could be obese and experiencing the diseases that accompany obesity.

However, the same report forecasts that if people reduced their Body Mass Index by just 5% in the next 15 years, Indiana could potentially save over 13 billion dollars or 7.1% in health care costs.  What would a 7.1% reduction in health care costs mean to our county’s industries?  What would it mean to the family budget?

There is no social or economic indicator that is not negatively impacted by our county’s health.  Population projections by the Kelly School of Business of Indiana University forecast Shelby County as the only “donut” county that will experience a population decrease of up to 10% by 2050.  This decrease comes not only from a decline in the birth-rate, but from people moving out of Shelby County.  Every other county surrounding Indianapolis is projected to experience a 40% population increase.  Who will migrate out of Shelby County?  Who will be left behind?

Shelby County is home to so many rich cultural and civic resources that support and enhance the lives of our residents.  Still, we know that in comparison to robust communities, we are not necessarily attractive to investors or even to our sons and daughters who are newly launching careers and families.  Analysis and case studies by the Trust for America’s Health focus on the correlation between a community’s health and economic development.  The report looks at how health impacts the ability of a community to attract and retain employers.  A key conclusion of this report is that community wellness initiatives whose coordinated strategies improve the health of a community and its workforce are essential to a robust economy.

The data on the health of Shelby County is sobering and alarming.  We cannot ignore that:

  • In less than 20 years, 65% of our population could be sick and less productive from obesity alone.
  • The entire cohort of Baby Boomers with their expanding health care needs will have retired by 2030.
  • Our young children are already experiencing chronic diseases and may very well have shorter life spans than their parents’.
  • Our employers find their bottom lines adversely impacted by health care costs and lost productivity.


Shelby County is at a tipping point
.  But the dictionary also defines a tipping point as

  1. The point at which an issue or idea crosses a certain threshold and gains significant momentum, triggered by some minor factor or change.
  2. A series of small changes that may have little effect until they build up to a critical mass. Then the next small change may suddenly change everything.
  3. The levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.

Healthy Shelby County is working to change the culture of health in Shelby County.  We want to empower residents to think and act differently about their health – to see that keeping one’s health is the priority instead of working to get it back. When we look at the alarming data about our county’s health, we know the time is now to work together, using best practices to create a positive tipping point for Shelby County.

Healthy Shelby County’s mission is to make the healthy choice the easy choice where we live, learn, work and play.  In collaborations throughout Shelby County, we are identifying the small and large steps that will empower all Shelby County residents, from the youngest to the oldest, to improve their health and wellness.  Our quality of life demands it.  Our economic vitality demands it.  Our children’s future demands it.  Changing the culture of health in Shelby County is a marathon not a sprint, but the work has begun!  Join Healthy Shelby County in creating the momentum for change that changes everything!

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