America’s healthiest and least healthy states

Despite years of efforts to even out health disparities across the United States, some states are dramatically healthier than others, according to a new report.

Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont, Utah and Connecticut rank as the five healthiest states, while West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi rank the least healthy in America’s Health Rankings, according to the report by the United Health Foundation.

The rankings take into account a variety of health factors, such as rates of infectious diseases, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and infant mortality, as well as air pollution levels and the availability of health care providers.

This is the first time Massachusetts has been named the healthiest state, ending Hawaii’s five-year reign.

The Bay State won the honor in part due to having the lowest percentage of uninsured residents at just 2.7% of the population, plus a low prevalence of obesity and a high number of mental health providers.

Mississippi and Louisiana, ranked 49th and 50th, have major health challenges, according to the report, including a high prevalence of smoking, obesity and children in poverty.

“We don’t have a system with everybody in,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, which was not involved in the new report. “We’re failing in our fundamental task to be a healthier nation.”

The report, America’s Health Rankings, has been analyzing state health standings for 28 years.

This latest report shows that the nation’s health overall is getting worse.

The nation’s premature death rate — the number of years of potential life lost before age 75 — increased 3% since 2015.

That increase is driven in part by drug deaths, which increased 7% during that time, and cardiovascular deaths, which went up 2%.

That leaves the United States ranking 27th in terms of life expectancy in a comparison of 35 countries, according to the report.

Benjamin said it’s frustrating to see these numbers, despite the fact that the US spends significantly more on health care than other nations, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“We’re spending more on health care and we die sooner,” he said. “We need to do a time out and figure out how to do this better.”

Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control, said the trends in higher death rates from cardiovascular disease and drug use can be reversed if four principles are followed.

The first is to follow the “ABCs” suggested by the federal Million Hearts program, which calls for aspirin when appropriate, blood pressure control, cholesterol management and smoking cessation.

The second is to reduce smoking nationwide through measures such as increased tobacco taxes and making all workplaces smoke-free.

The third is for the federal government to take 10 steps to reduce the opioid epidemic, including more cautious prescribing of drugs by doctors.

The fourth step is to decrease obesity by measures such as taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Increases in cardiovascular deaths and drug overdoses can be reversed, but it will take concerted action by government, health systems, communities and individuals,” Frieden, now president and CEO of the group Resolve to Save Lives, wrote in an email.

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2 thoughts on “America’s healthiest and least healthy states

  1. AmeriBev

    America’s beverage companies share the goal of a strong, healthy America, which is why we are investing our energy and resources in comprehensive efforts to meaningfully address complex health challenges like obesity. We are driving a reduction in the sugar and calories consumed from beverages across America – engaging with prominent public health and community organizations in this effort. We’re rolling up our sleeves and working with community leaders and stakeholders in places with some of the highest rates of obesity in the country like the Mississippi Delta and rural Alabama.

    Real world evidence shows that taxes do not reduce obesity or improve public health. In Mexico, the Mexico Department of Public Health reported in December that obesity has actually gone up despite a tax enacted in 2014 that has cost thousands of jobs. In Berkeley, the latest study shows that the tax caused people to add calories to their diets, not reduce calories.

    Real and lasting change requires giving people the information to moderate their calories and the options to do it. America’s beverage companies are providing more choices with less sugar or no sugar at all, clear calorie labels on the front of all of our products and the encouragement to cut back on sugar and calories from beverages with calorie awareness signs on company-controlled vending machines, fountain equipment and retail coolers nationwide.

  2. Qualia

    you can’t repair these things with more taxes, you need education and the cooperation of both political parties, as long as the parties engage in war with each other (thanks Bush, Chaney, Rove) instead of diplomacy this will never end and we will continue on our fall into third world status.

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