While deaths from cancer and cardiovascular causes continue to drop, more people are living with diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, the United Health Foundation report, “America’s Health Rankings,” found.
“While we are living longer, we are living sicker,” Reed Tuckson, MD, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs of UnitedHealth Group, said at an event here Tuesday. “We are living sicker from preventable illnesses.”
Nearly a third of the population (30.8%) have diagnosed high blood pressure, 9.5% have diabetes, and 27.8% are obese. Meanwhile, life expectancy hit 78.5 years in 2009, up from 76.8 in 2000.
Although medical breakthroughs have advanced the treatment of certain infectious diseases and cancers, more work is needed in the public health arena to reduce chronic disease, advocates said.
“We will do more to improve the overall health of our nation if we can successfully address these fundamental risk factors for preventable illnesses,” Tuckson said.
America’s Health Rankings, published by the United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association, and Partnership for Prevention, pools data from the CDC, American Medical Association, Census Bureau, and the Dartmouth Atlas Project. The annual rankings — this is the 23rd — provide an assessment of the nation’s health on a state-by-state basis.
For the sixth year in a row, Vermont was deemed the nation’s healthiest state. Mississippi and Louisiana tied for last.
Other findings include:
- 26.2% of the entire population doesn’t exercise
- 36% of adults don’t exercise
- 21% still smoke tobacco
- 1,000 people take up smoking every day
- By 2030, half the country will be obese and treating obesity-related disease will increase by $66 billion per year
Another troubling state the report found was the number of children living in poverty. That number is up 35% from a decade ago.
Children in poverty are children who don’t have access to nutritious food and who don’t exercise, Tuckson said, adding, “Those kids don’t have access to restorative and preventative medicine.”
Patients 50 and older deemed low-risk cost less than those 30 and older and at high risk, Kathleen Herath, assistant vice president for health and productivity at Nationwide Insurance, noted.
“It’s not aging that costing more money,” Herath said. “It’s aging with risk.”
The nation’s healthcare system won’t be able to handle the continued rise in chronic disease. “It is not possible to medicalize our way out of this problem,” Tuckson said.
However, there are efforts under way.
Employers are recognizing their role in helping stem preventative diseases and spur worker wellness, Helen Darling, chief executive of the National Business Group on Health, said at a roundtable hosted by UnitedHealth. In 2013, employers are doing more by encouraging obesity prevention and exercise in the workplace.
Recent proposed rules from the Department of Health and Human Services on worker wellness programs could also help, she said.
For example, the rules increase the maximum possible award under wellness programs from 20% to 30% of the cost of health insurance coverage. They also increase the maximum reward for programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use to 50% of the cost of coverage.
In other efforts, the United Health Foundation is launching a learning collaborative with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers that will study successful practices by states to improve health and share it with others.
The foundation also is funding the National Business Coalition on Health to operate private sector-led health engagement activities with stakeholders.
On the physician side, the American Medical Association operates the Weigh What Matters program. The phone application engages and encourages patients to establish their weight, healthy eating habits, physical activity goals, and track their progress.