Illinois ranked 10th least active state, Macoupin fares poorly among counties

Illinois ranked 10th least active state, Macoupin fares

Determinants of Health

This graph represents overall determinants of health. Physical activity is largely determined by health behaviors and social and economic factors. Courtesy UNC Charlotte College of Health and Human Services.



Coal Country Times Reporter

A recent study released by shows that Illinois is ranked 10th in the country for its lack of physical activity.

According to the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s 2019 County Health Rankings report, 23 percent of Macoupin County’s population is considered physically inactive, one percent higher than the state of Illinois. Top performers in the U.S. are at 19 percent.

The United Health Foundation reports that among those most affected by physical inactivity include older adults, adults living in rural areas, and lower-income adults, three prevalent areas of Macoupin County demographics.

“People still tend to think exercise is really only for children in school,” said Kent Tarro, administrator for the Macoupin County Health Department. “When I was in school myself, there wasn’t any practical teaching about the long-term benefits of some type of exercise program.”

What, then, is Tarro’s advice to get Macoupin County, and the country as a whole, on the fast track to being active and healthy again?

“If we could somehow get the entire nation to quit smoking tomorrow and got people walking 15 to 30 minutes a day, you would not believe what would happen to our medical bills,” said Tarro.

Alongside the large number of physically-inactive people in Macoupin, 16 percent of the population are smokers. Tarro also shared one strange statistic: men are quitting smoking, but women are taking their place. Thus far there is no study that adequately explains this.

But it is important to note that, as damaging as smoking may be, the county is at greater risk from its own lack of physical activity.

“We’re really good at inactivity in Macoupin,” said Tarro. “I don’t know that we really take it seriously enough to say ‘Let’s just go for a walk everyday’ in physical education. The importance of balance, which has some easy exercises associated with it, as well as flexibility and weight-lifting is often overlooked.

“There has been more than one study done to develop a weight-lifting program in assisted living and nursing homes,” he said. “After a year or two, the number of people strong enough to go back home was unbelievable.”

Tarro stated that when it comes to the determinants of health, politicians tend to focus on clinical care, but its overall impact on one’s health ranks only at 10 percent. The biggest factors are health behaviors, at 30 percent, and social and economic factors at 40 percent.

Physical environment and genes also both rank at 10 percent each. Tarro admits there is little you can do about genes, but if the rest of the graph were taken care of, people would be in good shape.

While much of health behavior relies on self-regulation and mindset, one’s environment and economic situation can be a major hindrance. Tarro conceded that while Macoupin has had its share of fundraisers and programs to move its health in the right direction, there is still little in the county to encourage exercise.

“We were once trying to develop walking and running clubs and it just has a very hard time taking off,” said Tarro.

The Center for Disease Control recommends zoning code reforms to promote physical activity, but Tarro’s previous efforts at ordinances involving nuisance properties in the county were not well received.

“The county board asked me to put together a county-wide nuisance ordinance,” he said. “All I was really trying to do was get rid of these properties with twenty cars in front of the house, or a hundred pounds of garbage on the lawn. And not just the county, we were going to try to take care of the towns as well. Basically, if
somebody decided if they wanted to have a junkyard next to you, we weren’t going to allow them to do that. The main problem is the cities just can’t afford to tear down all these abandoned properties.”

Tarro also explained that it’s easier to make better dietary decisions when you exercise, but even then there are hindrances.

“There was a SIU-Carbondale student, with my help, doing a study of whether Macoupin County was a food desert or not,” he said. “What he found was the southwest tip heading all the way up to Virden was an absolute food desert.”

The closing down of Carlinville’s IGA in April is the latest in a long string of disappearing grocery stores in the county. This leads to people inevitably driving longer to find their food, leading to yet more inactivity.

If all this seems discouraging, Tarro says there are ways to combat the growing problem of inactivity.

“The best time of day to exercise, and of course you have to work days to make this work, is when you’re done working,” he said. “It gets your metabolism going, it forces you to eat lunch and also have a lighter dinner. It also gives you a better night’s sleep.”