The health of Americans is at a “critical crossroads.”
Or so says the United Health Foundation, a nonprofit health care group, in its most recent “America’s Health Rankings” annual report, which notes that on the one hand, we are “making encouraging progress against long-standing public health challenges” like smoking, but on the other we are “treading into dangerous territory on other key health indicators” like obesity.
For example, since 1990, the prevalence of smoking in this country has fallen 41% -- and 17% in just the past four years, the report notes -- but in the past year, cardiovascular deaths have increased after a 26-year decline, as have drug deaths, which are up 4% in the past year, and obesity rates are up 157% since 1990.
The health of citizens was measured by behaviors such as smoking and excessive drinking; the community and environmental situation, such as air pollution, and the number of children in poverty; policy issues like lack of health insurance and public health funding; health outcomes, such as cancer deaths and diabetes; and clinical care like number of active primary care physicians.
Some states fared significantly better than in others. In general, “Northeastern states generally rank among the healthiest overall states, while Southeastern states generally rank among those states with the greatest challenges,” the report reveals.
Hawaii, for the fifth year in a row, ranks as the healthiest, followed by Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota and Vermont. Hawaii benefits from a low prevalence of obesity, low percentage of the population without insurance and low rate of preventable hospitalizations, for example.
On the flip side, Mississippi’s citizens are the least healthy, followed by Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma. Mississippi has a high prevalence of smoking and children in poverty, plus, in the past year, the rate of physical inactivity increased from 31.6% to 36.8%.
For this ranking, all states benefited from the passage of the Affordable Care Act since the percentage of the population that has health insurance was a factor in these rankings. However, coverage still varies: As Kaiser notes, “Reflecting income and the availability of public coverage, people who live in the South or West are more likely to be uninsured.”
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