Passing the Health BarEvery year, the United Health Care Foundation releases its rankings of the most and least healthy states in the U.S. The report, meant to help communities identify and subsequently improve how they address major health problems in the community, shows that while some states are doing better than others, none are the picture of perfect health. In fact, as Dr. Reed Tuckson, chief of Medical Affairs for UnitedHealth and board member of the UnitedHealth Foundation, points out, even the nation’s healthiest state (keep clicking to find out which state it is) is struggling with obesity, with nearly 24% of its population qualifying.
Other universal problems in the U.S. include a rise in the population afflicted with diabetes (related to the prevailing obesity epidemic), a high number of preventable hospitalizations and still-too-high levels of tobacco use.
>>Check out our video with Tuckson here for more on what trends continue to negatively influence our country’s overall fitness and how they impact health care costs.
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MethodologyThe ranking uses data from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Commerce, Education and Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Medical Association, the Dartmouth Atlas Project, the Trust for America's Health, the World Health Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to score states on 23 key measures.
These measures include the percentage of smokers, binge drinkers, obese people, diabetics and high school graduates in each state, the prevalence of violent crime, occupational fatalities, infectious disease, children in poverty and air pollution and data on how many residents lack health insurance, public health funding or immunization coverage. It also factors in the number of deaths related to cancer, cardiovascular disease and infant mortality.
The overall scores, which range from -0.822 to 1.197, represent how each state compares with the national mean health score of zero. States with a higher value than the national average have a positive score, while those with a lower value will have a negative score. A full explanation of the methodology is available on the America’s Health Rankings Web site.
Read on as we look first at the five healthiest states, followed by the five least healthy states in the U.S.
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5th Healthiest State: MassachusettsScore: 0.906
The majority of residents are insured and smoking isn’t a popular habit in Massachusetts. But obesity, though lower than in most places, is still a growing problem. In the past 10 years, Massachusetts has seen its obesity rate increase to 23.6% of adults from 16.8%, with nearly 1.6 million people qualifying as obese.
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4th Healthiest State: HawaiiScore: 0.94
Hawaii would have actually placed first if the rankings only looked at “outcomes,” which refers to results that have already occurred, such as death rates, disease diagnoses or missed days due to illness. Instead, the state’s high ranking for ongoing health indicators drops it to number four.
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3rd Healthiest State: ConnecticutScore: 1.01
Though it claims one of the lowest obesity rates in the U.S. (23.0%), during the past year Connecticut has seen its incidence of diabetes increase to 7.3% of adults from 6.6%.
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2nd Healthiest State: New HampshireScore: 1.027
New Hampshire improved one spot since last year’s rankings to place second this year, but the state has ranked in the top 10 every year of the index. Its strengths include a low percentage of children in poverty and a high use of early prenatal care and high immunization coverage.
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The Healthiest State: VermontScore: 1.197
Vermont took the top spot for the second year in a row by ranking in the top 10 for a high rate of high school graduation, a low violent crime rate, a low rate of infectious disease, a high usage of early prenatal care, high per capita public health funding, a low rate of uninsured residents and the availability of primary care physicians.
But, as mentioned, the state is not without its own public health challenges, including low immunization coverage (91.2% of children from 19 to 35 months have received recommended immunizations), relatively high occupational fatalities (4.3 deaths per 100,000 workers) and a high prevalence of binge drinking at 17.1% of the population.
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5th Least Healthy State: AlabamaScore: -0.607
More than 1.5 million people in Alabama are obese (500,000 more than there were 10 years ago) and the prevalence of diabetes has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, with 624,000 people affected by the disease. The state can be credited with a low prevalence of binge drinking, a high immunization record and high amount of public funding per capita, though.
Still, the bad outweighs the good to make Alabama the fifth least healthy state in the country.
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4th Least Healthy State: ArkansasScore: -0.622
Smoking remains popular in Alabama, where 22.9% of the adult population lights up, but the state did see the percentage of children in poverty decrease to 21.8% of the population from 25.7% during the past year.
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3rd Least Healthy State: OklahomaScore: -0.699
The state’s health score takes a big hit because of the limited availability of primary care physicians and low use of prenatal care. On the bright side, it does have a high amount of public health funding per capita and a low rate of infectious disease.
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2nd Least Healthy State: LouisianaScore: -0.817
While more than 1.4 million adults in Louisiana are obese - 381,000 more than 10 years ago – the state has made strides to decreasing its percentage of smokers and its violent crime rate.
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The Least Healthy State: MississippiScore: -0.822
Mississippi has been the least healthy state for the past 10 years and has been in the bottom three since 1990, a disturbing trend for public health advocates in the state. This year it ranked in the bottom five states on 12 of the 23 measures, including a high prevalence of obesity, a low high school graduation rate, a high percentage of children in poverty, the limited availability of primary care physicians and a high rate of preventable hospitalizations.
But researchers point out that there are some areas where Mississippi does excel. The state got decent scores for its low prevalence of binge drinking, a low violent crime rate and a high rate of immunization coverage. Additionally, Mississippi’s infectious disease rate improved to 10.5 cases per 100,000 people from 11.9 in the past year.
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The Most Sinful States in AmericaWhich states are most susceptible to the seven deadly sins as defined by MainStreet? Find out in our roundup of the Most Sinful States!
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