December 03, 2008

Who's Healthy: America's Health Rankings 2008 Issued by United Health Foundation

United Health Foundation has just released its 2008 America's Health Rankings. The report considers a number of components the UHF considers important to public health, analyzes their availability compared to a national mean on a state-by-state basis, and then ranks each state according to its overall score.

The overall result is shown in the following chart, listing the states from healthiest to least healthy according to the study's metrics:

Adapted from United Health Foundation's 2008 America's Health Rankings report
I won't get into the minutia of everything that went into these calculations. If you're interested in them, all the information you could possibly need is available via the UHF.

It's also interesting to check out the Nation at a Glance clickable map. There, you can click a state to get a brief list of strengths and challenges as well as a snapshot that gives considerably more detail of trends in the state.

A few particulars leap right out, though. With the exception of Nevada (#42), the bottom 10 states in terms of overall health are all southern states. Five of the top ten (Vermont #1, New Hampshire #3, Massachusetts #6, Connecticut #7 and Maine #9) are in New England. In fact, the only New England state not in the top 10 is Rhode Island, which comes in at #11. No southern state made the top 10; the highest ranked among those is Virginia at #20. In fact, it's the only state in the southeast that comes in above the national average, to which Arizona comes closest.

According to the report, Massachusett's biggest overall public health challenge is binge drinking. Louisiana, at the bottom of the list, has low binge drinking as one of its strengths. This reveals a personal bias of mine; because of Mardi Gras, I always connect Louisiana with drinking, so it's a surprise to learn that its more of a problem here than there.

I also can't help thinking back to the Pew Religious Landscape Survey (I blogged about it here). It's interesting to note that the most religious states are also the ones that come in at the bottom of the UHF's health ranking and the least religious come out near the top. Mississippi, for instance, was the most religious state of all according to Pew's metrics and according to UHF ranks #49 out of 50 in terms of public health (it ranked dead last in 2007, but Louisiana has now surpassed it). This is correlation and doesn't demonstrate that poor public health increases religious sentiments, nor vice versa, but the correlation is unmistakable overall (Utah in particular bucks the trend, however). I suspect that there may well be a factor common to both religious fervor (e.g. fundamentalist tendencies) and poor health when it comes to the bigger public health picture. Perhaps poverty, for instance, and/or lack of access to good education might be a contributing factor in the correlated results of both studies.

In any case, the Health Rankings report is interesting to poke about in. Enjoy.

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