U.S. Health Rankings Show a Decline in Overall Health

The overall health of the United States declined during the past year, despite progress made in several key health indicators, according to a report by United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association (APHA) and Partnership for Prevention. The 18th annual edition of America’s Health Rankings: A Call to Action for People & Their Communities measured the overall healthiness of states and the nation using a comprehensive and longitudinal set of related health determinants and health outcomes. The report indicated that the overall health of the nation declined by a rate of 0.3% since last year.

Vermont was the healthiest state in 2007. Mississippi ranked as the least healthy state.While this report, and others, showed there have been modest gains in reducing the rates of cancer and cardiovascular mortality, these improvements continued to be dwarfed by increasing obesity, increasing numbers of uninsured people, children in poverty and the persistence of risky health behaviors, such as tobacco use and violent crime.

“Even though specific mortality rates have improved, this report shows there are still many people who, through unhealthy personal behaviors, adverse community environments and difficult access to care, are vulnerable to a future life of poor health – which is essentially preventable,” said Reed Tuckson, MD, member of the board of United Health Foundation. “The consequence of this reality manifests itself in a poor quality of life, people living with chronic disease, compromised productivity and significant escalation in the costs associated with managing chronic illness.”

This lack of progress was in sharp contrast to the nation’s average annual improvement of 1.5% between 1990 and 2000. In fact, since 2000, there has been a virtual stagnation in health improvement. The failure to demonstrate progress is particularly worrisome given that the United States continues to trail other nations in important health indicators such as infant mortality and healthy life expectancy.

The 2007 report provided a ranking of the healthiness of each state. Vermont was ranked as the healthiest state in the nation this year, with Minnesota (2), Hawaii (3), New Hampshire (4) and Connecticut (5) following. Mississippi ranked as the least healthy state, with Louisiana (49), Arkansas (48), Oklahoma (47) and Tennessee (46) completing the bottom five. The report noted that every state – no matter its ranking – has its own set of unique challenges to confront and successes on which to build and from which other states can learn.

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