Americans are dying less often from cardiovascular and cancer-related causes, but chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are on the increase, according to a new report detailing state-by-state health rankings.
Now in its 23rd year, America’s Health Rankings compares health and wellness trends in all 50 states. The states are ranked on two dozen different criteria, from smoking and drinking to health insurance and the number of children living in poverty. The annual report is prepared by the United Health Foundation in association with the Partnership for Prevention and the American Public Health Association.
Overall, the report reveals that one in four Americans (28%) are obese, nearly 10% have diabetes and over 30% have high blood pressure. In addition, more than one-quarter of us (26%) lead a sedentary lifestyle.
On the positive side, premature deaths from cancer and heart disease have shown a steady decline since 1990.
“As a nation, we’ve made extraordinary gains in longevity over the past decades, but as individuals we are regressing in our health,” said Dr. Reed Tuckson, MD, medical adviser to the United Health Foundation and chief of medical affairs for United Health Group.
Vermont is ranked as the healthiest state — for the fourth consecutive year. Six other states in the northeast adorn the top 10. Hawaii, which has consistently placed in the top six on the annual list, came in second this year. Hawaiians display low rates of smoking and obesity, but have high rates of low-birth weight babies and incidences of binge drinking.
Top 5 Most Healthy States
3) New Hampshire
Two states tied for the least healthy state: Louisiana and Mississippi. Both have regularly been at the bottom of the list, and currently have high rates for chronic unhealthy conditions like diabetes, obesity, and living a sedentary lifestyle.
Bottom 5 Least Healthy States
46) South Carolina
47) West Virginia
49) Louisiana (tied)
49) Mississippi (tied)
“People should care about this report,” says Dr. Anthony Shih, executive vice president for Programs at the Commonwealth Fund. “It is clear that where you live matters in terms of overall health and it should motivate action to improve.”
It’s important to note that the top 5 healthiest states had smoking rates ranging from 16.8% to 19.4%, compared to 23.1% to 28.6% in the five least healthy states.
Likewise, between 21% and 35% of the population lead sedentary lives in the top five healthiest states, compared to 27.2% to 36% in the least healthy states.
The study proves that states can improve their health ranking. In 1990, Vermont was ranked as the 20th healthiest state, but has steadily improved to become the healthiest.
Researchers say states in the bottom tier should take note of what their higher ranked counterparts are doing and implement the same strategies. For example, banning smoking in public places or increasing the tax on cigarettes could decrease the number of smokers in the state, thereby cutting deaths from cancer and heart disease.
“The detailed information in the rankings provides a roadmap for helping America become healthier,” said Eduardo Sanchez, MD, chairman, Partnership for Prevention. “Even the healthiest states can identify areas for improvement, while those with lower rankings can see what’s possible by looking at where they stand.”
Data used to derive the rankings came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, FBI, Dartmouth Atlas Project, the U.S. Department of Education and the Census Bureau. State rankings were determined based on 24 measurements, including the following:
- sedentary lifestyle
- binge drinking
- air pollution
- health immunizations
- primary care doctors
- rate of medical conditions
- rate of deaths caused by medical conditions
- health insurance
“The America’s Health Rankings report is a call to action for individuals – and the communities in which they live – to do something about the nation’s health crisis now,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association.