Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
For the fifth consecutive year, Vermont was deemed the healthiest state in the United States, according to the 2011 America's Health Rankings, released on Tuesday by the United Health Foundation.
The report is published jointly by the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention. Its findings are compiled from data from such organizations as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Dartmouth Atlas Project, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Census Bureau.
The factors that have contributed to Vermont's success, according to the report, include top 10 rankings in high school graduation, low violent crime rate, low rate of infectious disease, quality prenatal care, funding per capita for public health, low rate of uninsured residents and availability of primary care physicians.
"We've taken a lot of pride in (the ranking)," Robert Stirewalt, spokesperson for the Vermont Department of Health, told Governing. All the factors mentioned in the report "add up to a healthy population," he said.
New York and New Jersey showed the most improvement, moving up six spots, to 18th and 11th respective. The study attributed those gains to the decrease in the number of smokers. Idaho, from 9th to 19th, and Alaska, from 30th to 35th, dropped the furthest in the rankings.
Mississippi ranked as the least healthy state in the nation, as it has for the last 10 years. Mississippi ranks in the bottom five states for 12 of 23 metrics used to assess a state's overall health, including obesity rate, high school graduation rate, percentage of children in poverty, the availability of primary care physicians and rate of preventage hospitalizations.
The result were "not really a surprise here. This is where we've been traditionally," Mississippi State Health Officer Mary Currier told Governing. She explained that the state's struggling economy and high poverty rate are directly connected to poor overall health.
The Mississippi Department of Health has pushed the state legislature to adopt a smoke-free air policy, Currier said, and 45 communities in the state have already instituted their own policies. She also pointed to a pilot program to help curb the state's infant mortality rate by working with woman whose babies have low birth weights and efforts to establish nurses in community organizations such as churches and schools as a form of primary prevention.
"It takes all of us working together" to improve the state's health, Currier said.
The report revealed some mixed results on the nation's overall well-being: improvements in smoking cessation, preventable hospitalizations and cardiovascular deaths have been offset by increases in obseity, diabetes and children in poverty, according to the report.
The report concluded that the U.S. population's overall health did not improve from 2010 to 2011, as there was an almost even numbers of increases and decreases in the 23 metrics used to create a full picture of the country's health profile. Here were some key positive findings:
The report also noted these negative results:
Referring to the last batch of numbers, Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association and former secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in a statement: “Addressing the leading causes of these largely preventable diseases is essential if we are going to improve the nation’s health."
Founded in 1999 as a non-profit organization by the UnitedHealth Group, the United Health Foundation characterizes its goal as providing "helpful information to support decisions that lead to better health outcomes and healthier communities." It has spent $193 million to "improve health and health care" since then, according to its website.