Indiana’s Biggest Health Challenges

Indiana’s Biggest Health Challenges

Aside from the COVID pandemic, which has obviously gotten most of the attention the last few years, Indiana has a slew of other health concerns that affect the ways our companies perform. Just because our other health issues have been on the back burner for a while does not mean they have gone away. In fact, many of them have grown worse and they are certainly having an impact on our bottom lines.

Out of all things, employee health has one of the biggest influences on company performance levels. Employers are on the front lines in the fight against many of our state’s top health concerns, whether they wish to be or not. That’s why it’s so important to build an understanding of the challenges that may be present throughout many of our companies.



Lack of physical activity is a big problem. Spending most of your day in a chair can wreak havoc on the body, and the average person now sits more than ever before in history. The workplace is a key area of focus in this regard, because only about 20% of jobs are physically active, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. That means up to 80% of the American workforce is sedentary for their entire day.

Forbes reported the typical office worker sits about 15 hours total every single day, which is about 7.5 hours at work, plus commuting times, and time at home outside of sleeping.

The Indiana Department of Health’s (IDOH) guideline says that adults should be getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. The average adult in Indiana gets about 16% of that, or 24 minutes – far below the recommended amounts.

This level of inactivity can lead to a lengthy list of costly conditions, including things like obesity, increased risk for multiple types of cancers, chronic diseases, heart disease, and diabetes – just to name a few. But the good news is this is something that we can control. Even moderate increases in movement and physical activity each day can help prevent many of these diseases from occurring.


Mental Health

Did you know that Indiana’s suicide rate has been higher than the national average for the past 22 years? In 2017, we had the highest rate of suicide that our state has seen in the last 50 years. More than 1,000 Hoosiers have died this way every year since 2016. We’re among the top ten states with the largest percent increase in this awful category, and it’s really only one part of the overall problem.

Directly related to suicide are a wide variety of other mental health concerns that almost certainly have an impact on Indiana companies. At one point just before the COVID pandemic, it was estimated that 1 in 17 Hoosiers live with a serious mental illness. But that figure has almost certainly risen in the past few years.

In fact, experts have been describing the wave of new mental health ailments as a second pandemic. In Indiana, we currently rank 43rd out of all states for the prevalence of mental health illnesses – meaning we’re one of the states with the highest prevalence. Data from Mental Health America for 2022 indicates that roughly 22% of Hoosiers are experiencing a mental health illness. Far greater than what was estimated just a few years ago.

Mental health concerns can have a huge impact on employee performance. Depression, for example, can interfere with a person’s ability to complete physical tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance 35% of the time, according to CDC data. That and other conditions could also affect things like engagement with one’s work, communication, and daily functioning.



At one point a few years ago, IU estimated that opioid misuse costs our state $11 million daily. Indiana has been battling this epidemic for several decades now, but there is strong evidence that things have worsened during the COVID pandemic.

At one point in August 2020, the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation reported that emergency room visits for overdoses in Indiana were 79% higher than over the previous year, and the use of naloxone to stop overdoses was up by 63%.

This year, the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute reported that Indiana overdose deaths rose 58% through 2021, after declining in 2018 and 2019.

It’s very likely these higher rates of addiction are already in Hoosier workplaces, because most addicted individuals are in fact employed. This translates into a lot of things that employers don’t want, like unplanned absences, incarcerations, a higher propensity for accidents, lost productivity, and increased healthcare costs.


Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

In Indiana, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been correlated with a major increase in health problems later in life. They are effectively just as much of a public health issue as they are a societal issue. ACEs include things like childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, and other negative events experienced before the age of 18.

Indiana has a high prevalence of these types of events. Roughly 25.5% of Hoosiers have experienced three or more ACEs, and another 35.8% have experienced one to two. That’s according to a study of nearly 6,000 Hoosiers by the IDOH.

The link between ACEs and adverse health outcomes is simply huge. For example, about 12.8% of people with zero ACEs are current smokers, compared to 35.7% among people with three or more ACEs.

The rate of depressive disorders is about 9.1% among people with zero ACEs, and a rate of about 39.9% among people with three or more. Other health risk factors like obesity, heavy drinking, driving under the influence, poor mental health, and others are all significantly higher too – in many cases more than doubled.


Power in Knowledge

The more Hoosier business leaders can come to understand the ways our state’s top health concerns affect their companies, the more steps they can take to mitigate their losses. These problems are simply too expensive to ignore. Each year millions of Indiana dollars are lost to absenteeism, reduced productivity, delays, shortages, and more, all because of health challenges like these. By understanding and recognizing these issues, employers can become more active in the effort to reverse these outcomes and build a healthier environment for business success.

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