Improvements in Nation’s Health Slowing Because of Obesity, Infant Mortality Rates, Report Says
Although the overall health of U.S. residents continues to improve, health indicators show that improvements have slowed in recent years, in part because of increases in obesity and infant mortality rates, according to the 15th annual America's Health: State Health Rankings study, USA Today reports (Davis, USA Today, 11/8). The study, which was launched in 1990, has been performed by the United Health Foundation since 1999. States are scored using federal data according to 18 health indicators in the categories of risk behaviors, health outcomes, community environment and health policies (Brown, Washington Post, 11/8).
Overall, the health of the nation has increased 17% since 1990, driven in part by smoking-reduction programs. However, overall improvement has slowed in the past five years to just 0.2% annually, according to the report. The slowdown is driven in part by the growing prevalence of obesity, which has increased 97% since 1990, according to Georges Benjamin of the American Public Health Association, which sponsors the study (USA Today, 11/8). Currently, 22.8% of the population has a body mass index of 30 or higher, up from 22.1% last year. Another factor that has slowed improvement is the U.S. infant mortality rate, which last year rose for the first time in 40 years from 6.9 deaths to seven deaths in the first year of life for every 1,000 live births, according to the report. Overall, infant mortality in the United States has fallen 31% since 1990. The United States now ranks 28th worldwide in infant mortality rates (Washington Post, 11/8). The report also identifies high rates of uninsured, declining high school graduation rates and increased child poverty as factors that are slowing health progress nationwide (USA Today, 11/8).
Overall, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Vermont ranked as the healthiest states in the nation, reflecting low rates of poverty and premature death, safer-than-average drivers and "generous spending" on public health programs, the Post reports (Washington Post, 11/8). Minnesota, which was ranked first, has held the top ranking for nine of the past 15 years (Chicago Tribune, 11/8). Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee were ranked at the bottom of the analysis, reflecting high rates of poverty, infant mortality and cancer, as well as large numbers of smokers and -- with the exception of Tennessee -- high rates of uninsured.
According to the Post, there also were "wide variations" among states in many of the health measurements studied. Colorado and Hawaii had the lowest rates of obesity at 16%, while Mississippi and Alabama had the highest at 28%. Wide variations also were found among ethnic groups. For example, in the District of Columbia, for every 100,000 people, blacks lost 19,000 years of life due to premature death, compared with 5,300 years for whites. In New Mexico, Hispanics lost 8,300 years compared with 7,100 for whites, while in Virginia, Hispanics lost 4,000 years compared with 6,400 for whites (Washington Post, 11/8).
Benjamin said that the finding that causes the greatest concern is the slowdown in improvement. He said, "Today, everybody has an interest in talking about health. But in some quarters there is more talk than action." Reed Tuckson of UHF said, "When we compare our infant mortality rate against other nations, it lets us know that we have much more distance to travel" (USA Today, 11/8). He added, "We really hope this represents a call to action. Each state is unique, each has its own problems. The point is to address the problems where you live" (Washington Post, 11/8).
The report is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.