Progress in a society can be measured by steady improvement in health outcomes. The United States has improved in some health areas over the years, yet is facing serious challenges in others, according to the latest report from the United Health Foundation. The report’s findings also show health outcomes differ widely across states, and the likelihood of living a healthy life largely depends on where you live.
To provide a more complete picture of where the country is succeeding and where it is failing, the United Health Foundation’s 2017 America’s Health Rankings report examined both determinants and health outcomes. The UHF included for each state such measures as healthy behaviors, quality of health care, health policy, the incidence of diseases, and preventable deaths.
Due to policy and awareness, the nationwide smoking rate fell from 29.5% in 1990 to 17.1% last year, while immunization rates for children and adolescents have increased. However, obesity and drug-related fatalities have risen dramatically over that time. Approximately 30% of the U.S. adult population is obese, up considerably from 11.6% in 1990.
There has also been a 7% increase in drug deaths over the last five years, one of most troubling trends identified in the report. Drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death in the United States. There were a record high 64,068 drug overdose deaths in 2016, up from last year’s toll of 47,000. This has likely contributed to the recent rise in premature deaths nationwide. After falling steadily for decades, the premature death rate rose for the third consecutive year.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Rhonda Randall, senior medical advisor to the UHF, said that a variety of complex factors can explain poor health and the resulting untimely deaths in a given state. “No one of these measures alone really tells you the health of a state,” Randall said. Likewise, states typically do well in some health measures and poorly in others. “Every state has areas that have opportunities for improvement.”