Does where you live impact how healthy you are? Well, it seems like it's definitely a factor.
Each year the United Health Foundation issues a ranking of all 50 states based on health factors like obesity, smoking, pollution, physical activity levels and access to quality healthcare. In the report, the organization writes that it follows the principles of the World Health Organization (WHO) which defines health as, "…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
The rankings were based on 35 different factors and not all were strictly about healthy habits. Access to adequate health care was part of the ranking system, as was health policy in each state. For the past five years, the place in the number one spot was Hawaii. It's beautiful and is consistently ranked one of the happiest places to live, but the UHF rankings were about more than surface issues like picture postcard beaches and ideal climate. This year though, Hawaii fell to second place, behind Massachusetts. This is where healthcare access and policy may have played a significant part in the rankings. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has the lowest percentage of uninsured residents in the country. With only 2.7% of citizens without insurance and the world-class medical facilities located in the capitol city, Boston, Massachusetts took over the top spot in the rankings.
While the top-ranked states are examples of healthy lifestyles, access to care, and health policies that benefit the community, not every state that was ranked in the top ten was without some issues. While Massachusetts and Utah are both in the top five, there has been a 69% increase in drug deaths in Massachusetts and a 10% increase in deaths from cardiovascular disease in Utah. Some factors were correlated with the healthier states, however. In Massachusetts, there are approximately 547 mental health providers per 100,000 residents, the highest concentration in the country. The bottom spot for access to mental health care goes to Alabama, with only 85 mental health care professionals per 100,000 citizens. Alabama was also in the bottom five states overall, ranked at 47 out of 50.
Upward movement was recognized as well with Florida and Utah tied for the biggest jump in rank, each moving up four places to 32 and 4, respectively. North Dakota has the dubious honor of falling the furthest, with a tumble of 7 places since last year. While the state still made a respectable showing at number 18 overall, rates of children being vaccinated declined, and the rates of smoking and salmonella outbreaks increased.
So what's the point of ranking states in this way? According to the UHF website, the goal is to provide clear benchmarks for states to improve the health of citizens. To move up in rank, state organizations and the medical community have to know where the weaknesses lie. Once the states know what they need to do to improve, actions will follow such as promoting access to care, educating the public and putting programs in place for community outreach. The video below has more information about the rankings. Where did you state land?