A new report has ranked which states in America are healthiest overall -- and which are staggering behind, CNN is reporting. The study was conducted by the United Health Foundation, which is a nonprofit division of United Health Group. United Health Group also owns the insurance company United Healthcare and Optum. The study has been conducted annually for 29 years and takes many factors into account.
Thirty-five factors are considered in total, and they fall into these categories: the behaviors that people are choosing in their lifestyle; the community and environment where a person lives; the public policy that happens at a state level; and the clinical care that people receive when they go to the doctor and the hospital.
"A scientific advisory committee looks at each one of those measures and determines, based on scientific evidence, how much of an impact that measure has on the overall health of a population," said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare National Markets and a senior adviser to the America's Health Rankings report.
"Then, the states get a ranking for each individual measure, and then they get an overall ranking."This year, Hawaii has been ranked as the healthiest state in the U.S., with Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and Utah following in the top five. Last year, the top five states were the same, but in a different order. The least healthy states? Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi and, coming in last, Louisiana. Randall said the researches main concern following these results was the obesity epidemic. The obesity rate rose by 5 percent in one year -- a first in the study's history. Also concerning, Randall said, was that the rate of premature deaths increased by 3 percent.
"That means years of life lost before people are reaching the age of 75," Randall explained.
"That often has [a] correlation with a number of factors -- things like our lifestyle choices, living with more chronic diseases. We also know that the suicide rate has increased as well, and that would contribute to the increase in premature death rate, along with other causes."Sadly, America's suicide rate has increased by 16 percent since 2012. On the other hand, childhood poverty has decreased by 6 percent, and the amount of mental health providers has increased. These numbers signify a longer lifespan. As for the areas that still need work, Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, thinks there could be many factors that contribute to certain states having certain results.
"If you think about the things that cause premature death -- heart disease, perinatal deaths, tobacco-related diseases -- in many ways, those are spurred by social determinants," Benjamin said.
"Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana continue to be at the bottom, and that kind of carries up to the Arkansas and Tennessee region. When you look at some of the challenges they have, it's still around tobacco use and poverty and, to some degree, physical inactivity."Randall says she's hopeful for 2019. She noted that the rate of tobacco use has gone down significantly, and if people start incorporating physical activity into their routines, next year's study will show a vast number of improvements.