(USA TODAY) -- Americans are living longer, with fewer deaths from heart disease and
cancer, but more chronic illnesses, an annual snapshot of the USA's
The 2012 America's Health Rankings highlight
troubling levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and sedentary
behavior. Medical advances are allowing more people to live with those
READ: The full 2012 ranking report (PDF)
MORE: Florida's ranking (PDF)
The bottom line: Americans "are living longer,
sicker" with more chronic illness, says Reed Tuckson of theUnited Health
Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation that sponsors the report with
the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for
the sixth consecutive year, Vermont tops the list of healthiest states,
says the report, which uses data from the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, American Medical Association, Census Bureau and even
the FBI. It looks at 24 measures of health, including tobacco and
alcohol abuse, exercise, infectious diseases, crime rates, public health
funding, access to immunizations, premature birth rates and cancer and
heart disease rates.
States that are most successful on the
rankings "have good results in a majority of the conditions we
evaluate," Tuckson says. But states such as Mississippi and Louisiana,
which tied for last place, "are over represented in key measures like
tobacco consumption, lack of exercise and obesity - the fundamentals,"
Although socioeconomic factors play an important role in
some states' consistent low rankings, "we know it is possible to
improve; states are capable of doing that," says Georges Benjamin,
executive director of the American Public Health Association. Key to
that effort is "taking lessons from things they do well and applying
them more vigorously to the things they are not doing well."
has low rates of binge drinking and a high rate of childhood
immunization, but it ranks in the bottom five states on 13 of 24 health
measures, including obesity and diabetes.
But "we don't have to
accept those" indicators, says Karen DeSalvo, health commissioner for
New Orleans. She says an extensive effort is underway "to get us to the
place we need to be ... to be a healthy state."
States that showed
the most substantial improvement in rankings include New Jersey (up nine
places on the list); Maryland (up five). Alabama, Colorado,
Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island each moved up three.
Among the unhealthy behaviors the report cites:
More than a quarter (26.2%) of all Americans are sedentary, defined as
not doing any physical activity outside of work for 30 days. But it's
36% in Mississippi, and 35.1% in both Tennessee and West Virginia.
27.8% of U.S. adults are obese, defined as being roughly 30 or more
pounds over a healthy weight. That's 66 million people - more than the
entire population of the United Kingdom. In even the least obese state,
Colorado, more than 20% of the population is obese.
percentage of adults with diabetes is 9.5% nationally, but it's 12% or
higher in West Virginia, South Carolina and Mississippi.
30.8% of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, but that ranges from a
low of 22.9% in Utah to a high of 40.1% in Alabama. High blood pressure,
or hypertension, is a primary risk for cardiovascular disease -
problems related to the heart and the blood vessels.
no way that this country can possibly afford the medical care costs and
consequences of these preventable chronic illnesses," says Tuckson. "We
have two freight trains headed directly into each other unless we take
"People have to be successful at taking accountability for their own health-related decisions."
expectancy in the USA is now 78.5 years; up from 47.3% in 1900.
premature deaths have dropped 18% since 1990, and deaths from
cardiovascular disease are down 34.6%. Cancer deaths are down 7.6%.