Health Agencies Outline Healthiest States In America
December 12, 2012

Health Agencies Outline Healthiest States In America

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Americans are living longer, but not healthier. That´s the consensus from a new study called America´s Health Rankings. The paper looked at the health of the U.S. population based on clinical care, individual choices, and public policy.

In particular, the United Health Foundation along with the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the Partnership for Prevention produced the report; they tracked various health measures state by state.

“It is important to note that we are living longer, but not necessarily better,” commented Jane Pennington, spokesperson from the United Health Foundation, in an article by ABC News. “Despite improvements, we still have unhealthy behavior that threatens our health status. It continues to be disappointing that we are seeing a rise in chronic illness. It doesn´t have to be that way. That is the alarm that we want to sound.”

One of the rankings focused on obesity in U.S. adults. People with a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 or higher are considered obese; BMI is compiled by factoring in weight and height.

The group found that obesity ranges from 20.7 percent of the adult population in Colorado to 34.9 percent of the population in Mississippi, with the national median of obese adults at 27.8 percent. With over one in four adults considered obese in the U.S., it´s no wonder that obesity is one of the greatest health issues facing the U.S. It is also known that obesity causes other serious illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. In 2008, direct medial costs due to obesity were estimated at $147 billion.

"There's no way that this country can possibly afford the medical care costs and consequences of these preventable chronic illnesses," Reed Tuckson, a representative of the United Health Foundation, told USA Today. "We have two freight trains headed directly into each other unless we take action now."

Apart from obesity, the group looked at smoking in the U.S., measuring the percentage of the population over the age of 18 who used tobacco products on a regular basis. They found that the national median of regular smokers is 21.2 percent of adults, with the lowest rate of adults found in Utah (11.8 percent) and highest in Kentucky (29.0 percent).

Smoking is a concern as it impacts the overall health of individuals. As well, it is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and can cause damage to every organ. Illnesses related to smoking include cancer, heart disease, preterm birth, respiratory issues, and premature death. The group advocates that, as smoking is a lifestyle issue, smokers can benefit from community support and clinical intervention.

The group also looked at the percentage of adults in the U.S. who are suffering from diabetes, excluding pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes. They found that the highest percentage of adults with diabetes was in Mississippi (12.0 percent), while the lowest percentage of adults with diabetes was in Colorado (seven percent). Overall, the national median of adults who were diagnosed with diabetes was 9.5 percent. Diabetes is thought to be the result of an unhealthy lifestyle, and can cause other diseases and health complications. Type 2 diabetes is also thought to be largely preventable, and can be prevented through lifestyle changes and health care interventions.

The last ranking the group studied was the impact of sedentary lifestyle, in particular a lack of physical activity or exercise apart from the regular day job. They discovered that the percentage of sedentary adults ranged from 16.5 percent in Colorado to 36 percent in Mississippi, while the national median of sedentary activity was 26.2 percent. With these numbers, the group advocates that regular physical activity become an important aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Individuals can incorporate exercise activities like calisthenics, golf, gardening, running, and walking. By increasing physical activity, individuals can lower the likelihood of developing cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and premature death.

Based on these various rankings, the group stated that Vermont was the healthiest state in the country. Even though Vermont grabbed the top spot, it still has some health issues such as high rates of cancer and a higher number of individuals who participate in binge drinking. Hawaii was awarded second healthiest state.

On the other hand, Louisiana and Mississippi were both ranked as the least healthy states. They had similar issues, such as high rates of diabetes, obesity, and sedentary lifestyle.

“People should care about this report,” stated Dr. Anthony Shih, who serves as the executive vice president for Programs at the Commonwealth Fund, in the ABC News article. “It is clear that where you live matters in terms of overall health and it should motivate action to improve.”