25th Anniversary America’s Health Rankings Finds Increased Obesity and Physical Inactivity After Short-lived Improvements in 2013

December 09, 2014
  • Hawaii remains healthiest state in 2014; Mississippi least healthy

  • Nationwide, reduction in smoking, and improvements in adolescent immunization and infant mortality offset by rising rates of obesity and physical inactivity

  • Long-term analysis finds Americans have made considerable progress in avoiding premature and cardiovascular deaths in the past 25 years; life expectancy at its highest yet

  • New America’s Health Rankings online tools to inspire health advocacy include a “Change My Rank” feature

Rising rates of obesity and physical inactivity threaten Americans’ quality of life, even as Americans progressed in several key health metrics in 2014,  according to the landmark 25th Anniversary Edition of America’s Health Rankings®: A Call to Action for Individuals & Their Communities.

Obesity and physical inactivity increased in 2014 after showing encouraging results last year. The obesity rate increased 7 percent from 27.6 percent to 29.4 percent of adults. Likewise, the percentage of adults who reported not participating in any physical activity in the last 30 days increased from 22.9 percent to 23.5 percent.

At the same time, the number of Americans who smoke continued to decrease, declining 3 percent this year, continuing a consistent, decade-long trend. Immunization coverage for adolescents increased by 5 percent, and infant mortality rates decreased by 4 percent compared with last year.

“We applaud hard-won advances in several key measures, including smoking prevalence, even as this year’s America’s Health Rankings is a solemn reminder that we have a lot more work ahead of us,” said Reed Tuckson, M.D., senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation. “It is inevitable that increases in the rates of obesity and physical inactivity will result in more people suffering from significant chronic diseases that compromise the quality of their lives, adversely affect their families and are unaffordable for the nation.”

United Health Foundation is marking 25 years of America’s Health Rankings by introducing new online tools to inspire health advocacy across states and communities.

  • A “Change My Rank” online tool allows users to see how improving several key measures affects the state’s overall rank (for example, if a state reduced its prevalence of obesity by 5 percent, what would its overall rank be?).
  • A Thought Leader Perspectives portal showcases notable leaders from the public health, government, academic, business, technology and consumer arenas reflecting on the achievements and challenges in America’s health over the last 25 years, and their thoughts for the next 25 years.

United Health Foundation will discuss the 25th edition at an event Wednesday, Dec. 10, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The event will feature remarks from leading health experts and thoughtful conversation about the past, present and future of America’s health. To watch the event live and to get more information about America’s Health Rankings visit www.americashealthrankings.org.

State rankings

Hawaii has again taken the title of healthiest state. Vermont came in second, followed by Massachusetts, which improved to third after being ranked fourth for two years. Connecticut came in fourth, rising three slots from last year. Utah came in fifth. Mississippi ranked 50th this year, preceded by Arkansas (49), Louisiana (48), Kentucky (47) and Oklahoma (46). West Virginia and Alabama moved out of the bottom five.

Hawaii has consistently been in the top six states since America’s Health Rankings launched in 1990. It scored well on most measures, including a low prevalence of smoking, obesity and children in poverty, as well as low levels of disparity in health by education level. Hawaii also ranks well for low rates of preventable hospitalizations and for cancer and cardiovascular deaths. Like all states, Hawaii has areas where it can improve: it scored below the national average in binge drinking, incidence of salmonella infections, and immunization coverage for children and adolescents.

To see the Rankings in full, visit www.americashealthrankings.org.

25th anniversary report reveals major long-term health strides, challenges

With the launch of this year’s report, America’s Health Rankings commemorates 25 years of comprehensive health reporting and advocacy for a healthier America. The special 25th anniversary America’s Health Rankings report finds Americans have made meaningful strides in health since 1990, particularly as it relates to life expectancy:  

  • At 78.8 years, Americans’ average life expectancy is at a record high.
  • The past 25 years have seen considerable declines in:
    • infant mortality, decreasing 41 percent
    • cardiovascular death, decreasing 38 percent
    • premature death, decreasing 20 percent
  • U.S. cancer mortality rates have also shown a steady decline, dropping 8 percent between 1996 and 2014.

The decline in smoking rates stands out as a significant health improvement over the past 25 years. Since 1990, smoking rates have decreased 36 percent, from 29.5 percent to 19.0 percent of adults who smoke regularly. Cigarette smoking is still associated with one of every five deaths in the United States, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the country. 

While Americans are living longer, the past 25 years have seen a steady rise in chronic conditions, many of them preventable, that compromise their quality of life.

  • Obesity now a leading contributor to death in the United States more than doubled over the last 25 years, from 11.6 percent of adults in 1990 to 29.4 percent of adults today. One possible explanation for the increase: levels of physical inactivity remain high, with 23.5 percent of adults reporting no physical activity or exercise in the last 30 days.
  • Adults who say they have diabetes currently stands at 9.6 percent, more than double the number from 20 years ago when America’s Health Rankings first started tracking diabetes.

“The challenge for the next 25 years is to achieve widespread, uniform success in fighting the chronic conditions that threaten Americans’ quality of life and adversely affect our nation’s health care system,” said Rhonda Randall, D.O., senior adviser to United Health Foundation and chief medical officer and executive vice president, UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions. “Obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity rates are troublingly high. We must continue to promote positive health behaviors and help prevent the devastating consequences of chronic illnesses that are often left unchecked.”

United Health Foundation looks ahead to next 25 years; calls for sustained momentum

Since its inception in 1990, the America’s Health Rankings report and its tools have helped track key health trends and identify multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary approaches to improving Americans’ health. 

“The Rankings were founded 25 years ago on the idea that we cannot improve what we cannot measure,” said Kate Rubin, president of United Health Foundation. “Looking ahead to the next 25 years, United Health Foundation is committed to providing a continued roadmap for health improvement through deep, comprehensive reporting that shows where we have made progress and where there is work to be done.”

“The last 25 years point to significant progressions in health, particularly in the length of American lives,” said Georges Benjamin, M.D., executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Twenty-five years from now, I hope we are celebrating meaningful improvement in quality of life for Americans everywhere.”

“The 25th anniversary of America’s Health Rankings provides us with an important opportunity to take stock of how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go in fostering a culture that truly prioritizes disease prevention and health promotion,” said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., chair of Partnership for Prevention.

About America’s Health Rankings®
America’s Health Rankings is the longest-running report of its kind. For 25 years, the Rankings has provided an analysis of national health on a state-by-state basis by evaluating a historical and comprehensive set of health, environmental and socioeconomic data to determine national health benchmarks and state rankings. The Rankings employs a unique methodology, developed and annually reviewed and overseen by a Scientific Advisory Committee of leading public health scholars. For more information, visit www.americashealthrankings.org. It is published by United Health Foundation in partnership with American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.

The data in the report come from well-recognized outside sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, FBI, Dartmouth Atlas Project, U.S. Department of Education and Census Bureau.

About United Health Foundation
Through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts, United Health Foundation works to improve our health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce and enhance the well-being of local communities. United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. To date, United Health Foundation has committed more than $240 million to programs and communities around the world. We invite you to learn more at www.unitedhealthfoundation.org.

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