VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — A new survey conducted by a local health system is shedding light on some of the biggest health risks and causes for people in the Wabash Valley.

Union Health surveyed its physicians and providers last year to determine the health risks they see. It found that the number one health risk in the Wabash Valley is heart disease.

According to Stephanie Laws, Vice President, Administrator of Union Hospital in Clinton, Cardiovascular disease deaths are 23% higher in Vigo County than the state average. Vermillion County ranks first in the state for the highest cardiovascular mortality rate.

Heart disease is the No.1 killer of women over age 35 in Vigo County. Data also supports very low screenings. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise and obesity.

Richard G. Lugar, Center for Rural Health

Union’s survey also found that the second-highest health risk locally is diabetes.

We need to promote early recognition and treatment of prediabetes to prevent progression to diabetes. Earlier treatment and control have a profound impact on preventing the many long-term complications of diabetes.

Meghan P. Williams, Pharm.D., BCPS

Cancer was ranked as the third-highest health risk in the area.

Oncologist Robert Haerr, MD with Union Health Hux Center says this about early detection: “Curing cancer mostly means finding the problem early so we have a better chance that surgery and radiation can be used to eradicate it, and/or medicines can still be employed to finish off whatever is left.”

According to countyhealthrankings.org, only 29-44% of female Medicare enrollees aged 65-75 living in the Wabash Valley received an annual mammography screening.

Women’s health data shows the Wabash Valley is among the 10 highest risk counties for breast cancer. These rates have been worsening over the past five years. Only 61% of eligible women are receiving breast cancer screenings. Based on predictive models from Healthy People 2020, it will take 13 years to reach the recommended state average at our current pace.

Richard G. Lugar Center for Rural Health

“In medicine, we can fix a lot of things, but if people ate right, exercised and didn’t smoke, we could fix half of the problems that we deal with every day, and that would be a good thing,” said Dr. Hans Andreasen, Medical Director of Population Health Coordinator, Union Health.

Union Health’s survey also found that the top three causes of health issues locally were obesity, behavioral health, and tobacco and vape usage.

According to countyhealthrankings.org, when discussing obesity, eight out of nine counties in the Wabash Valley show adult obesity (adults 20 and older), reporting a Body Mass Index measurement greater than 30%. The same study indicated all nine counties had a minimum of 28% of the population showing no physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Indiana is the 12th most obese state in the U.S. and seven out of 10 U.S. adults aged 20 and older are either overweight or obese. The U.S. spends nearly $200 billion in annual health care costs related to obesity. New findings by the Physical Activity Council suggests a need for more aggressive efforts to combat the issue.

Dr. Hans Andreasen, when discussing behavioral health pointed out that there is a large mental health component relating to barriers of care that can affect health outcomes.

According to countyhealthrankings.org, all nine counties showed a minimum of 22% of the Wabash Valley population are adults who currently smoke, while Vigo County ranks 3% higher than the state average of adults who smoke.

“Lung cancer deaths have decreased by 18% when compared to the early 2000’s due to the new city and county smoke-free ordinances that went into effect in 2012,” said Sarah Knoblock – Tobacco Prevention & Cessation Coordinator for Chances & Services for Youth “But vaping has emerged as the new go-to nicotine product for teens, addicting a new generation.”

The survey also found that these health issues are often worse for low-income and underserved communities.

“Unhealthy habits, that include fast food consumption and self-medication or drug abuse, become reactionary traps with negative outcomes for this underserved population. Housing and food insecurities quickly become higher necessities that lead to less emphasis on preventative health, unhealthy diets and lack of exercise,” Richard G. Lugar of the Center for Rural Health said.

“Often low-income patients delay seeking medical treatment, which increases their health risks and overall health outcomes. Many also have difficulty navigating siloed care, as opposed to an integrated health care plan.” Said Dr. Andreasen.

So what should people do?

Union says the first thing is to select a primary care provider, then people should schedule and maintain annual health exams. A primary care provider will monitor changes in the patient’s health and address any new concerns. They will help identify any health risks early, allowing more time for intervention. They will also recommend appropriate vaccinations and health screenings, as well as evaluate a patient’s family health history, if available. In other words, they will help folks stay engaged in their health