Americans' health remains poor

by Eric Schroeder
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MINNEAPOLIS — Unprecedented levels of obesity, an increasing number of uninsured people and the persistence of risky health behaviors contributed to a fourth consecutive year of poor health trends among Americans, according to the 2008 edition of "America’s Health Rankings" published by the American Public Health Association in collaboration with the United Health Foundation and the Partnership for Prevention.

The lack of improvement against national health measurements during the past four years are in contrast to what occurred during the 1990s, when health improved at an average rate of 1.5% per year, the A.P.H.A. said. Despite the recent downturn, the overall health of the nation has improved 18.4% since 1990, A.P.H.A. said.

The rankings, which have been published for the past 19 years, showed little in the way of progress in terms of reductions in the prevalence of smoking since the early 1990s, and noted that the prevalence of obesity has more than doubled in the past 19 years.

"Our collective national failure to successfully address the determinants of health over the past several years is tragically documented in this year’s report," said Reed Tuckson, M.D., United Health Foundation board member and UnitedHealth Group executive vice-president and chief medical officer. "Without action in these severe economic times, the harsh findings of this report will only be worse next year for our nation, states, communities, families and individuals. This is a time for urgent and focused action."

According to the report, 36 states had positive changes in their overall health scores between 2007 and 2008, while 14 experienced declines. The states with the greatest overall health score improvement during the past year were Arkansas, New Mexico and Kentucky. Texas and Montana showed the least improvement over the past year.

Vermont remained the healthiest state for the second year in a row. The state, which was ranked 16th when the first edition of "America’s Health Rankings" was released, has steadily climbed in each of the past eight years.

Moving up to No. 2 from No. 3 was Hawaii, followed by New Hampshire, Minnesota and Utah. Colorado, which ranks as the 19th healthiest state, was ranked No. 1 in terms of the state with the lowest prevalence of obesity.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Louisiana replaced Mississippi as the least healthy state in 2008. A high prevalence of obesity, a high percentage of children in poverty and a high rate of uninsured individuals dragged Louisiana down. Just ahead of Louisiana were Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

"America’s Health Rankings" analyzes 22 different health measures, which are a combination of health determinants and health outcomes. For the first time, the 2008 report included air pollution and geographic disparity as measures.

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