5 Healthiest, Unhealthiest States for 2012

by Alyssa Oursler | December 13, 2012 11:41 am

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It’s that time of the year.

The annual report that I’m sure you’ve been waiting for — America’s Health Rankings[1] — has been released … and it came with a lot to smile about.

Overall, the U.S. has enjoyed a decline in air pollution, occupational fatalities, infectious disease, infant mortality, premature death, cardiovascular deaths, cancer deaths and violent crime.

Of course, it wasn’t all good news; there were also more children in poverty, and the rate of uninsured folks remains around 15% higher than it was a decade ago.

And despite American per capita healthcare spending that leads the world, health in the U.S. as a whole continues to lag behind other developing countries — particularly in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality rates. Health inequality also is one of the highest among developed nations.

Still, some states in the U.S. are exceptionally healthy … and, of course, a few lag behind. Let’s take a look at the five best and five worst places in terms of health here at home:

No. 5 Healthiest State: Minnesota

Minnesota gained one spot to sneak into the top five this year. In fact, Minnesota actually ranks No. 1 for total health outcomes — a score than makes up 25% of the total ranking and includes number of poor physical health days, premature death and other factors.

Other strengths of the state include low prevalence of sedentary lifestyle (891,000 adults in the state) and diabetes (300,000 adults) along with a high rate of high school graduation. A sedentary lifestyle is more prevalent among non-Hispanic blacks, though.

Minnesota is at the bottom of the totem pole for its rate of infectious disease, though, while per capita public health funding could be improved and binge drinking (defined as five drinks for a man and four for a woman on one occasion) could be lowered. In fact, funding fell from $62 per person to $43 in the last five years alone.

You can read the full details about Minnesota here[2].

No. 4 Healthiest State: Massachusetts

Moving up three spots to No. 4 is Massachusetts. Up north, improving rates of uninsured peoples helped the state climb some in the rankings, as the rate fell from 9.8% to 4.5% during the past five years. Other bright spots: Low occupational fatalities, ready availability of primary care physicians and one of the lowest obesity rates in the country.

The state makes the not-top-10 for its rate of binge drinking. More than 20% of the population 18 and older reported excessive drinking during the 30 days before the survey compared to under 18% last year. That made for the largest year-over-year gain in at least the last decade.

Violent crime and preventable hospitalizations were other areas that could improve, but, all in all, Massachusetts is looking healthy as a horse.

You can read the full details about Massachusetts here[3].

No. 3 Healthiest State: New Hampshire

New Hampshire dropped a spot in the rankings this year, taking the bronze medal instead of 2011’s silver. In terms of diabetes, smoking and obesity, its rankings are nothing to write home about, either — 15th, 17th and 16th, respectively.

Of course, it makes up for that in several ways. The state has the country’s lowest percentage of children in poverty — a mere 8.6%. It also boasts the lowest rate of infant mortality, along with a low violent crime rate and high rate of high school graduation.

Binge drinking again is higher than preferred, but that’s hardly (as we’ve seen) exclusive to New Hampshire. In fact, Tennessee had the lowest binge drinking rate, but ranked 39th overall.

Public health funding was the other red flag for the state, but the $58-per-person average still was better than 15 other states.

You can read the full details about New Hampshire here[4].

No. 2 Healthiest State: Hawaii

For the second-best state, we have to head off the mainland to what’s simply a vacation destination for most of us. The lovely islands of Hawaii moved up one spot from last year to take the silver medal.

Hawaii also has a high prevalence of binge drinking (the 43rd worst state). But the good news is it’s the second-healthiest state for obesity and third for smoking (although it has high rates of youth smoking). Plus, it has the lowest rate of preventable hospitalizations in the U.S. In the past five years, preventable hospitalizations decreased from 32.2 to 25 discharges per 1,000 Medicare enrollees.

And while a low high school graduation rate and a high prevalence of low birthweight leave much to be desired, the islands beat everyone out in terms of public health funding and make the top 10 for physical activity.

You can read the full details about Hawaii here.[5]

No. 1 Healthiest State: Vermont

We’re back to New England for the gold medal. Vermont has been the poster child for U.S. health for some time. In fact, after steadily climbing the rankings (it was 17th in 1998), it has now been top dog for four straight years.

The only wrinkles on Vermont’s health resume this year were a high rate of binge drinking (18.5% of adults), a modestly high cancer death rate and moderate occupation fatality rate.

Vermont’s many gold stars definitely outweigh those woes, though. The state ranks in top 10 for its high school graduation rate, has the lowest geographic disparity and incidence of infectious disease out of the entire country, and also enjoys a low violent crime rate, high per capita public health funding and thus a low rate of uninsured population.

Anyone else think it might be time to migrate up north?

You can read the full details about Vermont here[6]. Now, onto the not-so-hot states …

No. 5 Unhealthiest State: South Carolina

The lower Carolina slid one spot in the past year, making our bottom five as a result. It can brag to the healthy states that, hey, at least its binge drinking rate is low!

But the good news seems to end there.

South Carolina has the second-highest rates of diabetes at more than 12%, is in the bottom 10 in terms of its obesity rate and just missed being in the bottom 10 for its smoking rate. On top of that, its high school graduation rate — despite a slight increase — is still considered low, with the percentage of children in poverty marching upward, too. Over the last five years, the percentage went from under 16% to over 26%.

In fact, the only other kind-of bright spot was the state’s moderate rate of preventable hospitalizations. Other than that and its binge drinking rate, South Carolina ranked below the median for all measures.

You can read the full details about South Carolina here[7].

No. 4 Unhealthiest State: West Virginia

West Virginia also took a slide, going from 43rd overall to 47th. Its ever-climbing obesity rate is the third-worst in the nation, and its smoking rate climbed for the second consecutive year to make it the second-highest overall at nearly 29%.

Toss in a high prevalence of sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes, as well as a high rate of preventable hospitalizations, and you have the fourth-worst state on our list — despite the fact that it shells out nearly $130 per person on public health funding. That’s the fourth-highest number for the whole nation, with only Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont topping the total.

You can read the full details about West Virginia here[8].

No. 3 Unhealthiest State: Arkansas

Southern state Arkansas slipped one spot to the make the bottom three this year. Almost 700,000 adults in the state are obese, which is around the same number that live a sedentary lifestyle — the state is the 44th-worst for each statistic.

The third highest rate of smoking and a high number of children in poverty also weigh on the state’s shoulders. A whopping 27% of the adult population smokes, while the percentage of children in poverty climbed from just more than 21% to over 25% in the past year alone.

A few bright spots: Arkansas at least has moderate immunization coverage and per capita health funding. It also has a low rate of binge drinking. The rates of preventable hospitalizations and infant mortality also have been decreasing, but the state still lags behind others for those numbers.

You can read the full details about Arkansas here[9].

No. 1 Unhealthiest State (tie): Mississippi

Head back south to Mississippi and you’ll find the least healthy state — well, one of them. It tied for the undesired crown, ranking in the bottom five states for 12 of the report’s 24 measures.

Mississippi actually ranks dead last in the U.S. for sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes. Other problem areas include a low high school graduation rate, limited availability of primary care physicians and a high prevalence of low-birthweight infants.

The state also has the highest teen birth rate in the entire country, the lowest level of physical activity and … well, you get the picture.

The plight of the state is hardly news, though. Mississippi has been in the bottom three since 1990 (it was the second-worst last year), with only a low prevalence of binge drinking and low violent crime rate to be proud of in 2012.

You can read the full details about Mississippi here[10].

No. 1 Unhealthiest State (tie): Louisiana

Tied for last place is fellow southerner Louisiana, which had the unhealthy crown all to itself in 2011. Again, this struggling state has been in bottom three since 1990 and was in the bottom five for even more measures than fellow laggard Mississippi.

A laundry list of its problems include a high prevalence of obesity, a high rate of children in poverty, a high rate of low-birthweight infants, a high prevalence of diabetes, and a high rate of cardiovascular and cancer deaths. The obesity rate is over 33%, making for almost 1.2 million obese adults in the state.

You can read the full details about Louisiana here[11].

The Middle 40

Of course, these are just the extremes. Find out where your state falls by checking out the full rankings here[12]. You also can get more information on national changes, as well as find out how to take action and make yourself, your state and your nation healthier all-around.

  1. America’s Health Rankings: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/
  2. here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/MN/2012
  3. here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/MA/2012
  4. here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/NH/2012
  5. here.: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/HI
  6. here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/VT
  7. here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/SC/2012
  8. here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/WV/2012
  9. here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/AR/2012
  10. here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/MS/2012
  11. here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/LA/2012
  12. here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/Rankings

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