Healthcare Economy

America's Most (and Least) Healthy States

5. West Virginia
> Pct. obese: 33.8% (4th highest)
> Cardiovascular deaths per 100,000: 311.0 (6th highest)
> Physicians per 100,000: 105.5 (17th lowest)
> Pct. visiting dentist in 2012: 56.4% (4th lowest)

West Virginians are among the most likely Americans to suffer from a range of serious diseases. Thirteen percent of the adult population had diabetes as of 2012, more than any other state in the country, while deaths due to cardiovascular diseases and cancer were more common than in most other states. More than a quarter of West Virginians surveyed in 2012 described their own health as being poor or fair, the most of any state. For many residents, unhealthy behaviors may contribute to overall poor health. The state’s smoking and obesity rates were among the highest in the nation. Prescription drug abuse is a major concern in West Virginia. Between 2008 and 2010 there were 22 drug-related deaths per 100,000 residents, trailing only one other state.

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4. Alabama
> Pct. obese: 33.0% (5th highest)
> Cardiovascular deaths per 100,000: 335.8 (2nd highest)
> Physicians per 100,000: 99.9 (tied for 11th lowest)
> Pct. visiting dentist in 2012: 58.6% (5th lowest)

Nearly 25% of Alabama residents described their general health as fair or poor, a higher percentage than any other state except for West Virginia. Heart diseases and high cholesterol levels were more common in Alabama than most other states. Also, 4.6% of the state’s adult population suffered from stroke last year, a larger share than any other state. Also, infant mortality was the second highest in the country at 8.5 per 1,000 live births, compared with just 6.3 deaths per 1,000 live births nationwide. In a recent press release, the Alabama Department of Health attributed the high infant mortality rate to low birth weights and high smoking rates among expectant mothers. Additionally, infant mortality occurred at higher rates among women without health insurance. Last year, 24% of adults were regular smokers, considerably higher than the national rate. About 10% of all live births were underweight in 2011.

3. Louisiana
> Pct. obese: 34.7% (the highest)
> Cardiovascular deaths per 100,000: 318.5 (5th highest)
> Physicians per 100,000: 120.3 (20th highest)
> Pct. visiting dentist in 2012: 56.1% (3rd lowest)

Children born in Louisiana face a number of serious health-related challenges. Last year, 31% of minors in the state lived in poverty, the highest rate in the nation. Nearly 11% of children born as of 2011 had low birth weight, a sign that the mother may have limited access to health care, possibly because of a lack of health coverage. In 2011 and 2012, nearly one-fifth of the state’s population lacked health coverage. Obesity has skyrocketed in Louisiana, nearly tripling from 12.3% of the adult population in 1990 to 34.7% last year, the highest rate of any state. Louisiana residents also were more likely than most Americans to die of cardiovascular disease or cancer.

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2. Arkansas
> Pct. obese: 34.5% (3rd highest)
> Cardiovascular deaths per 100,000: 319.4 (4th highest)
> Physicians per 100,000: 99.9 (tied for 11th lowest)
> Pct. visiting dentist in 2012: 54.9% (the lowest)

High rates of smoking and physical inactivity among Arkansas residents contributed to the general poor health in the state last year. One in four adults were smokers, and 31.4% of adults were physically inactive, the largest share of any state. Between 2008 and 2010, deaths from cancer in the state were among the highest nationally, at about 216 per 100,000 residents. High rates of smoking and obesity — more than 34% of Arkansas adults were obese last year — explain in part the populations’ vulnerability to cancer. CARTI, a nonprofit cancer care provider, announced this month it plans to build a new cancer center in Little Rock. The nonprofit clinic likely will benefit Arkansas residents, many of which are living in poverty. Last year, the poverty rate was nearly 20%, the fourth highest in the country.

1. Mississippi
> Pct. obese: 34.6% (2nd highest)
> Cardiovascular deaths per 100,000: 358.6 (the highest)
> Physicians per 100,000: 82.1 (2nd lowest)
> Pct. visiting dentist in 2012: 55.4% (2nd lowest)

For the second consecutive year, Mississippi ranked as the least healthy state in the nation. Like other unhealthy states, Mississippi had high smoking, obesity and physical inactivity rates. Aside from unhealthy habits, living conditions of many in the state are not conducive to good health, with nearly 30% of children living in poverty last year. Limited access to quality health care is also a problem, with just 82 primary care physicians and 42 dentists per 100,000 residents as of 2011, both lower than almost any other state. These conditions may have contributed to the state’s poor health. The state had some of the highest rates of cardiovascular and cancer deaths in the nation. The effects of Mississippi residents’ poor health and limited access to medical care are perhaps nowhere better seen than in the state’s infant mortality rate of 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008 and 2009, the nation’s highest.

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