MONDAY, Nov. 8, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Americans living in Minnesota, New Hampshire and Vermont are more likely to live long, healthy lives than people residing anywhere else in the nation, according to an annual study ranking state-by-state health indicators.
On the down side, three southern states -- Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana -- ranked 48th, 49th and 50th, respectively, in terms of the health of their citizens, according to those announcing the rankings at a press conference Monday in Washington.
The report provides good news and bad news for the nation as a whole, said Dr. Reed Tuckson, vice president of the nonprofit United Health Foundation, which helped fund the study.
"While the overall health of Americans has improved by 17.5 percent over the 15 years we've issued this report, we've seen a real leveling off in improvements for many key health indicators over the past five years," he said. During the 1990s, the health of Americans improved at about 1.5 percent a year, according to the report. However, during the first four years of the new century those gains have slowed to just 0.2 percent a year, on average.
Tuckson said an "epidemic" 97 percent increase in the number of obese Americans over the past 15 years may be helping to undercut recent gains in health nationwide. Nearly 23 percent of Americans are now statistically obese, the survey found, with the highest levels of obesity occurring in low-ranked states such as Mississippi and Louisiana.
The survey also found a slight rise in the infant mortality rate among U.S. newborns -- a first in the United States in 40 years, Tuckson said.
"In fact, we're now 28th in the world" in terms of infant mortality, Tuckson said, with 7.0 deaths per 1,000 live births. That means countries such as Japan and Sweden are now twice as successful at keeping babies alive, Tuckson said.
Declines in the number of insured Americans, as well as a concurrent rise in poverty levels, may also be slowing health gains, the experts said.
The America's Health: State Health Rankings study is conducted each year in a partnership between the United Health Foundation and the American Public Health Association (APHA). It examines state and federal data on "personal behaviors," such as smoking, nutrition, and exercise; community health indicators such as violence or workplace injury; and public policy issues, such as the availability of good prenatal care, public health services, and the numbers of uninsured people.
Speaking to reporters, APHA Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin stressed that "every state has improved" since experts first started the rankings back in 1990.
And several key health indicators continue to improve nationwide. For example, since 1990:
- U.S. motor vehicle deaths have been reduced by 36 percent;
- infectious disease rates have declined by 36 percent;
- smoking rates have dropped 25 percent;
- rates for violent crime have fallen by 19 percent;
- cardiovascular mortality has declined by 17 percent.
Still, increases in obesity, poverty and the numbers of uninsured may be undermining those gains, Tuckson said. While 22 states improved their overall health score this year compared to last, the remaining 28 states charted real declines, the study found. Alaska, Arizona, Oklahoma and Hawaii topped the "most-improved list" for 2004, while South Dakota, Washington and Oregon experienced the largest decline in health scores, relative to their 2003 rankings.
This year's rankings should serve as a "call to action for individuals to take personal charge of their health," Tuckson said, and for policymakers at the federal, state and local level to focus on those areas needing improvement.
The state-by-state rankings, beginning at number one, are: Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, Hawaii, Utah, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Maine, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Rhode Island, Washington, Kansas, New Jersey, Idaho, South Dakota, Virginia, Oregon, California, Arizona, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Montana, Ohio, Wyoming, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Texas, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Kentucky, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, West Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana.
For a detailed look at the report, visit the United Health Foundation.