How Does Your State Fare in U.S. Health Rankings?

The nation's rate of smokers, preventable hospitalizations and cardiovascular deaths improved; but were all offset by increases in obesity, diabetes and children in poverty.
by , | December 7, 2011

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 percentage of smokers dropped from 17.9 percent in 2011 to 17.3 percent to 2010. Since 2001, the number of smokers has dropped 25.4 percent.
  • The number of preventable hospitalizations for Medicare enrollees dropped 3.4 percent to 60.2 per 1,000 enrollees.
  • The number of cardiovascular deaths decreased by 2.2 percent, down to 270.4 deaths per 100,000 people.

The report also noted these negative results:

  • 27.5 percent of the adult population is considered obese, up from 26.9 percent last year. That numer has increased 37.5 percent since 2001, and 2011 was the first year that no state had an obesity rate below 20 percent.
  • The percentage of the population with diabetes rose to 8.7 percent, an increase of 4.8 percent from 2010.
  • The number of children in poverty increased from 20.7 percent of the population to 21.5 percent in the last year.

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.

The full report can be found on the foundation's website. The United Health Foundation ranked each state in the study (view an explanation of the rankings):

Rank State Score
1 Vermont 1.197
2 New Hampshire 1.027
3 Connecticut 1.010
4 Hawaii 0.940
5 Massachusetts 0.906
6 Minnesota 0.755
7 Utah 0.723
8 Maine 0.575
9 Colorado 0.555
10 Rhode Island 0.549
11 New Jersey 0.495
12 North Dakota 0.494
13 Wisconsin 0.476
14 Oregon 0.475
15 Washington 0.443
16 Nebraska 0.414
17 Iowa 0.401
18 New York 0.392
19 Idaho 0.344
20 Virginia 0.343
21 Wyoming 0.311
22 Maryland 0.269
23 South Dakota 0.267
24 California 0.265
25 Montana 0.139
26 Kansas 0.128
26 Pennsylvania 0.128
28 Illinois 0.098
29 Arizona 0.050
30 Delaware -0.032
30 Michigan -0.032
32 North Carolina -0.068
33 Florida -0.119
34 New Mexico -0.141
35 Alaska -0.168
36 Ohio -0.233
37 Georgia -0.275
38 Indiana -0.290
39 Tennessee -0.314
40 Missouri -0.342
41 West Virginia -0.413
42 Nevada -0.471
43 Kentucky -0.478
44 Texas -0.508
45 South Carolina -0.521
46 Alabama -0.607
47 Arkansas -0.622
48 Oklahoma -0.669
49 Louisiana -0.817
50 Mississippi -0.822

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