States in New England top a new set of rankings, while the South still lags.
If you want to be healthy, live in Vermont--or at least act like you do. It is the healthiest state in the country, according to a new report from the nonprofit United Health Foundation.
The annual ranking looks at 22 indicators of health, including everything from how many children receive recommended vaccinations, to obesity and smoking rates, to cancer deaths. (The foundation is funded by the insurer UnitedHealth Group.)
Vermont ranked first this year thanks in part to its low rate of obesity, high number of doctors and a low rate of child poverty. New England in general sets a benchmark for the country, the report found: All six New England states are in the top 10. These states have favorable demographics and an excellent public health infrastructure, including a large number of doctors per capita.
Eight of the 10 bottom-ranked states are from the south, with Mississippi coming in dead last for the ninth consecutive year. Mississippi has a sky-high death rate from heart disease and high infant mortality. In general, residents of these states are more likely to be smokers or to be obese, the report found. They also have worse health insurance coverage, fewer physicians per capita and live in areas with high violent crime and more child poverty.
UnitedHealth Group Executive Vice President Dr. Reed Tuckson says the report is meant to draw attention to public health issues, particularly the twin challenges of smoking and obesity. While the smoking rate has decreased in the past 20 years, nearly one in five Americans still smoke. More than one-quarter of American adults suffer from obesity, a condition that the report estimated will cost $344 billion in annual health care costs by 2018. "We are about to deliver a tsunami of preventable chronic illness that will come pouring into the medical care delivery system," says Reed.
Scores for each state are determined by gathering data from a variety of government and nongovernmental databases and then calculating how much each state is better or worse than the national average for each measure. The scores take into account a broad variety of health measures, including rates of infectious diseases, number of preventable hospitalizations and even levels of air pollution.
Christine Finley, the state's deputy commissioner for public health, says Vermont's performance in the rankings reflects its demographics. The state is 96% Caucasian, and research has shown that health outcomes can be worse for racial and ethnic populations as well as those with lower incomes and education levels. It also helps that every pediatrician in Vermont accepts Medicaid and the benefits extend to families who earn up to 300% of the poverty line.
Vermont fell short in some categories. Only 74% of children between 19 and 35 months have received recommended immunizations, compared to a national average of 78%. Vermonters also drink more than most Americans; 18% admit to binge drinking, while the national average is 16%.
For the states with the worst rankings, Dr. Tuckson says the news isn't all bad. Mississippi's child poverty rate decreased by 28% since last year, and its incidence of infectious disease decreased by 36% since 2003. In Louisiana, ranked 47th, preventable hospitalizations decreased by 11% since last year, and the smoking rate is down five percentage points in five years.
5 Healthiest States
5. New Hampshire
So the red state opponents of health care reform want us to emulate their states?