For the past 29 years, the United Health Foundation has issued a report ranking the states from healthiest to unhealthiest. The rankings are determined based on 35 different factors, varying from lifestyle choices to public policies to medical care.
The Top 5 Healthiest States
Last year’s top five states are the same as this year’s, though the order has changed a bit. Though Hawaii holds the record for healthiest state five years in a row, Massachusetts won the top spot in 2017. Hawaii reclaimed the title this year. For 2018, the top 5 healthiest states are:
The Bottom 5 States
West Virginia was 46th last year, but it’s moved out of the bottom five to number 44 this year. Oklahoma, however, moved down a few slots, while Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana round out the bottom five. The unhealthiest states in 2018 are:
There are a few important observations from the study to note. Researchers are especially concerned about the rise in obesity over the past year. It’s up 5 percent, meaning an astounding 31.3 percent of Americans are obese. It’s also worth mentioning that, for the most part, the unhealthiest states had the highest rates of obesity, while the healthiest states had the lowest obesity rates.
Another concerning factor was premature death, which is defined as death before the age of 75. This has increased 3 percent. Scientists believe a variety of factors influenced this rise, including suicide rates (which have risen 16 percent over the past six years) and the rise of chronic diseases.
On a positive note, childhood poverty has decreased 6 percent since last year. The number of mental health providers has also risen substantially.
Why are some states healthier than others?
One of the biggest factors influencing overall health seems to be primarily social. Societal determinants, such as poverty levels, access to walking areas, tobacco usage, etc. all affect the health of individuals within the community. In fact, most of the unhealthiest states have significant portions of the population who are at or below the poverty line.
It’s also important to note that, while states rank higher or lower than others based on all the factors combined, each state has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, there may be a state that has excellent medical facilities but ranked low on the list due to other negative determinants.
How can we all be healthier?
There are many things we can do to make ourselves healthier in the new year, both on a state-by-state as well as an individual basis.
For example, smoking rates have been falling for the past several decades. If those numbers keep falling, health should improve. Quitting smoking (or never starting) is one of the best ways to improve your overall health.
Of course, physical activity helps improve health, and fitness trackers help many people stay aware of their daily activity levels. As always, diet and exercise seem to be key to staying as healthy as possible.