With the release of the 2015 American Health Ranking Annual Report, it’s clear that the U.S. has made some great strides with certain wellness initiatives, like smoking — but there are still critical areas where certain states continue to struggle.
Since the first edition was published in 1990, the American Health Ranking Annual Report has been used to gauge the overall well-being of the U.S. healthcare landscape in hopes to “stimulate action by individuals, elected officials, health care professionals, public health professionals, employers, educators, and communities to improve the health of the US population.”
To build the report, a scientific advisory committee analyzes massive amounts of state data to produce twenty-seven different measurements around four core factors — behaviors, community and environment, policy, and clinical care — and calculate health value scores for each state. The 2015 edition gives us some major insights about health trends across the country — most particularly, which states lag behind the others in important measures.
Nationally, drug deaths increased from 13.0 to 13.5 per 100,000 people. This troubling increase was identified as one of the top health challenges currently facing the nation. Other notable difficulties include rising numbers of children living in poverty (21.1%), increased rates of diabetes (10%), premature deaths (the rate has not decreased in three years), and rising obesity rates (29.6%). The greatest improvements included a substantial five percent decline in smoking. Physical inactivity dropped 11% and preventable hospitalizations fell eight percent.
For the fourth consecutive year, Hawaii is the country’s healthiest state, while Louisiana has fallen to the least healthy, a spot held by Mississippi in 2014 (neither state has made it out of the bottom five in 25 years). North Carolina saw the greatest improvement in rank, rising from 37th to 31st following a 13% decrease in physical inactivity. Oregon fell the furthest, from 12th to 20th, as obesity spiked five percent and the health disparity by education level increased 10%.
What States Can Do
For a clearer picture of the health of the country, it pays to take a closer look at states in the middle of the pack, like Arizona (30th), Virginia (21st), Maryland (18th), and Pennsylvania (29th). While all of them have positive marks in regard to treating conditions like cancer and infectious disease, they have a similar fundamental problem: actually getting healthcare to all of their residents.
All four states have negative marks in public health funding per capita and/or large disparities in health status by education level. Improving the nation’s health is no easy task, and with no clear solution besides the obvious: make treatment more affordable. Attaining that goal can be tough for states and impacts the lives of those who need quality healthcare.
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(Main image credit: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Thinkstock)