Jackson County identified as having highest rate in Indiana

Jackson County has received a $1.15 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help lower an obesity rate that’s the highest in the state this year.

Purdue Extension Jackson County will team up with health experts at Purdue University to develop and implement strategies to address the county’s rate, which is 39 percent.

Five years ago, that rate, which involves the number of people reporting a body mass index of 30 or more, was 31 percent.

Tim Gavin, professor and head of Purdue’s Department of Health and Kinesiology, applied for and received the two-year CDC grant for “reducing obesity in Indiana through community involvement to increase prevention.”

Jackson County will share the grant with Lawrence County, which has the state’s second-highest obesity rate at 38 percent. The lowest rate in the state was 21 percent recorded by nearby Monroe County.

“Obesity is a serious public health concern, and fixing the problem begins with understanding and supporting each individual community’s needs,” Gavin said. “The Purdue Extension Jackson County office is a trusted community resource, and that gives us a foundation to build on as we work together to create long-term solutions for this public health problem.”

Gavin’s main contact in Jackson County will be Joni Muchler, health and human sciences educator for Purdue Extension Jackson County.

“Jackson and Lawrence counties were chosen for this grant because they are the Indiana counties with the highest adult obesity rates,” Muchler said. “This is all very new, but we are hoping to have a meeting within the next couple of months to discuss what plans need to be set into place.”

Muchler said positions will be created for the two counties to get a better understanding of the communities and their needs. Based on that information, community development plans will be set into place that hopefully will result in a decline in the obesity rate.

Currently, Fulton County in northern Indiana has the third-highest obesity rate at 37 percent. Locally, Bartholomew County’s rate was 32; Brown County’s was 28; Jennings County 33; Scott County 29; and Washington County 28.

Along with Monroe County, the healthiest counties are Hamilton and Tippecanoe, each with a 25 percent obesity rate.

Dr. Christopher Bunce, Jackson County’s public health officer, said obesity is not just a local problem, it is a national issue.

“Obesity can be contributed to many things, such as a lack of activity, overeating and poor diet,” he said. “Poverty and the inability to have quality foods can also contribute. This grant for the county to help improve health is wonderful news.”

Others collaborating on the project are Donna Vandergraff, a Purdue Extension nutrition specialist; Willie Burgess, managing director of Purdue’s Discovery Learning Research Center; Weiling Li, assessment specialist at the Discovery Learning Research Center; and Katie Zuber, health and human sciences educator for Purdue Extension Lawrence County.

The Discovery Learning Research Center will evaluate the success of interventional strategies implemented through the grant, which runs through October 2018. The Department of Health and Kinesiology is part of Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

By the numbers

Adults in Jackson County reporting a body mass index of 30 or more








Jackson County overall ranking in health (out of 92 counties)








On the Web

For information, visit countyhealthrankings.org.