When it comes to health, Indiana consistently falls among the lowest in the nation. A United Health Foundation report issued in December put the state at No. 41 for its overall health.
Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer rank among the top concerns facing region residents.
A 2013 report called County Health Rankings — by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — showed Lake County ranked No. 81 in health of the state's 92 counties. Porter County ranked No. 20 and LaPorte at No. 69.
The report shows 26 percent of Lake County adults smoke, 18 percent drink excessively and 34 percent are obese. In Porter County, 22 percent of adults smoke, 18 percent drink excessively and 30 percent are obese, according to the report.
“Indiana, in general,is very unhealthy,” said Beth Wrobel, CEO of HealthLinc, a federally qualified health center.
Wrobel is a member of the local One Region health initiative called the Northwest Indiana Health Advisory Council, which comprises local health advocates.
The group in November hosted a health summit to identify local health problems and suggest ways to address them.
“Even things like awareness and getting people moving — if we start thinking about it as a community, I think it's going to make a difference,” she said.
Wrobel said the community should take a step back and look at the bigger picture of some of the health issues to analyze the reasons why the numbers are what they are.
“We can't continue going the way we are,” she said.
Local hospitals are playing a role in addressing the region's top health needs.
Julie Mantis, nurse manager of the diabetes center at Community Hospital, oversees diabetes education for outpatients and inpatients. The center also helps a growing number of patients manage pre-diabetes.
"That's where we're seeing the largest increase," she said.
With lifestyle changes, people can prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes, which makes up the majority of diabetes cases. Education focuses on setting and meeting reasonable goals. Those who already have Type 2 diabetes learn ways to control it.
"We can't cure it, but we can control it," Mantis said.
Controlling it can reduce the risk of complications down the lines, such as eye, kidney, heart and nerve problems, she said.
Teresa Langley, oncology service line executive for the Cancer Care Center at Porter Regional Healthcare, relocated to Indiana from California last year and immediately noticed a need for screening, prevention and awareness for lung cancer.
A multidisciplinary team of physicians started looking at lung cancer diagnoses and the reasons behind them. One fact jumped out, she said.
"Our patients were not being diagnosed until the late stages," she said. "The mortality rate is much higher with the late stages, and the quality of life isn't there for those patients."
The team introduced lung cancer screening based on standard of care guidelines.
"Our goal is to impact quality of life, improve standard of care and diagnose at an earlier stage," she said.
As people age, they take a closer look at their lifestyle and recognize where they need to make changes, especially if they have difficulty breathing or exercising, Langley said.
Smoking can lead to more than lung cancer. It affects the skin, digestive system and heart, among other functions, she said.
The screenings can help people realize the full impact of smoking.
"I think that's kind of where the light bulb is going on," she said.
Screening is also key for heart health.
Terri Gingerich, cardiovascular service line director at the Center for Cardiovascular Medicine at Porter Regional Hospital, said the center has been focusing on chronic complex diseases.
"When you look at cardiovascular disease nationally, the age of the population is older, and the size is bigger," she said. "Those two things together increase the risk of coronary artery disease, hypertension, arrhythmia, diabetes.
The center offers an $85 screening that does a head-to-toe check for cardiovascular disease risks.
"We're focusing much more on prevention and early identification," Gingerich said. "There's a direct correlation with cardiovascular disease and those who are overweight or obese."
People are educated about body mass index — called BMI — and learn about lifestyle and diet changes. Patients often know about the need for a healthy diet and exercise, but the center helps them apply it specifically to their life, Gingerich said.