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Jan 05, 2012

The Health of America: How Healthy is Your State?

Drastic decline in America's health, but some states are healthier than others.

With a number of initiatives pushing healthy diets and increased physical activity over recent years, prevention of chronic diseases and improvement of overall health has been a key goal for the United States. We now realize that our sedentary, stressful modern lives have not been good to our bodies, and we strive to move in a healthier direction that will impact generations to come. So what many of us are wondering is: How have we been doing?

Unfortunately, reports from the 22nd edition of America’s Health Rankings are not encouraging. On the whole, experts report that America’s health has declined by 69% compared to the 1990s — mostly attributable to a drastic increase in obesity and diabetes, among other conditions. In fact, despite the 25% decrease in smoking in the U.S. since 2001, this triumph is swiftly overshadowed by the 37.5% increase in obesity over the same period. Nearly 1 in 3 people are obese in the United States and nearly 1 in 10 have diabetes. Together, the high prevalence of obesity and diabetes contributes to significantly increased risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke and certain types of cancer.

Yet equally concerning are the drastic health disparities between the 50 U.S. states. In general, the Northeast is healthier than the rest of the nation, with Vermont coming out on top for the fifth year in a row. But Southern states, particularly those falling within the so-called “stroke belt,” did not fare as well. Mississippi was the least healthy state for the tenth year in a row, which experts attribute in part to high obesity and poverty rates. Close behind were Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Based on this report, the U.S. has a long way to go in improving the health of the nation. Not only is it important to raise the “ceiling,” striving to achieve better health over the years, it is equally as critical to raise the “floor” and focus on bringing the health of the lowest ranking states up to snuff.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What criteria were used in evaluating the health of America?

  • A number of core measures were taken into account in measuring the health of America, with the most common being obesity, smoking, diabetes, immunization coverage and cardiovascular deaths. Supplemental measures were also used, such as physical activity rates, healthy diet, and rates of heart attack and stroke.