While the United States looks ahead to promised discussions about health care reform in 2017, the United Health Foundation is providing a starting point for conversation. The Foundation recently released its annual America’s Health Rankings report, which provides a detailed look at the state of health care nationwide, as well as a snapshot of each state.
Overall, the Tar Heel State fell one slot, from 31st nationally last year, to No. 32 in the country in 2016. According to the report, strengths for North Carolina include a low prevalence of excessive drinking and a high rate of immunization for children. Room for improvement, however, is to be found in the rate of children born with low birth weight, the number of children living in poverty, and the rate of infant mortality.
There were several areas in which North Carolina significantly deviated from the national average. Nationwide, 10.6 percent of people are without health insurance, compared to 12.2 percent of North Carolinians. And while the number of smokers around the country continue to decline, North Carolinians are still holding on to their love for tobacco. Nationally, 17.5 percent of our citizens smoke, while in the Tar Heel State, 19.0 percent have yet to kick the habit.
One worrisome trend, according to the Foundation, is the continuing rising rate of obesity, despite great attempts to curb it. North Carolina, with 30.1 percent of its residents battling the bulge, is right in step with the nationwide average of 29.8 percent. Perhaps part of the problem is with increasing inactivity. In 2015, 23.2 percent of the residents in the Tar Heel State reported being physically inactive, while this year, 26.2 percent admitted such was the case. At the same time, this year marks the end of a 26-year decline in the number of cardiovascular deaths.
In the area of contributing factors, the state fared well. Education increased over three percentage points, from 82.5 percent of the state’s residents graduating from high school in 2015, to 85.6 percent obtaining their degree this year. The environment continues to improve as well. In 2015, with regard to air pollution, 8.6 micrograms of fine particles were cubic meter were reported, which fell to 8.0 micrograms this year.
North Carolina fared better than some of her neighbors and not as well as others. Virginia is ranked 19th in the nation, but South Carolina came in near the bottom at 42nd, and Tennessee fared even worse at 44th.
Overall, the northeast states are the healthiest states in the nation, and the Southeast is the most unhealthy place to live. For the fifth year in a row, Hawaii — which has been in the top six since the Foundation began conducting the study in 1990 — garnered the highest spot. Rounding out the top were Massachusetts (second), Connecticut (third), Minnesota (fourth), and Vermont (fifth).
Again this year, most of the bottom tier is made up of southeastern states. Mississippi — which has been one of the worst three every year since 1990 — landed in the bottom spot again, narrowly being beat by Louisiana (49th), Arkansas (48th), Alabama (47th), and Oklahoma (46th).
The Health Rankings report was built upon the World Health Organization definition of health: a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmary. In addition to measuring healthy outcomes, the model looks at four determinants: behaviors, community and environment, policy, and clinical care. The entire report can be found at americashealthrankings.org/.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.