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Minnesota outscores Wisconsin on 39 health measures, UW study finds

Wisconsin has the highest percentage of excessive drinkers among all 50 states.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Wisconsin has the highest percentage of excessive drinkers among all 50 states.

Wisconsin health officials are using their state’s natural rivalry with Minnesota to urge its residents to improve their health — and the health of their communities.

A new report released yesterday by the University of Wisconsin (UW) Population Health Institute prominently points out that although Wisconsin scores better than the national average on 37 of 51 health indicators, it’s behind Minnesota on 39 of them.

“We know that where we’re trailing Minnesota we really ought to be doing better,” said the institute’s director, Karen Timberlake, in a phone interview Wednesday. After all, she noted, the two states are similar in size, demographics and geographic location.

“But the goal is not to be ahead of Minnesota,” Timberlake stressed. “The goal is to have the healthiest population we can and to start a conversation within Wisconsin about how to get there.”

“Frankly,” she added with a laugh, “we’re happy if one gets started in Minnesota as well.”

Advantage: Minnesota

Here are some of the measures for which Minnesota was found to have healthier scores than Wisconsin:

  • Percent of adults who currently smoke
  • Percent of adults who are excessive drinkers (In fact, Wisconsin had the highest percentage of excessive drinkers among all 50 states.)
  • Percent of children (aged 10-17) and adults who are obese or overweight (Minnesota tied Utah for having the lowest percent of obese/overweight children in the country.)
  • Percent of children breastfed
  • Percent of adults participating in recommended levels of physical activities
  • Percent of people aged 12 and older who used illicit drugs in the past month
  • Teen birth rate
  • Chlamydia and gonorrhea rates
  • Traffic fatalities per 100,000 miles driven
  • Deaths from falls
  • Percent of adults (18-64) without health insurance (although the scores of the two states are very, very close on this measurement)
  • Percent of adults who had a dental visit within the past year
  • Preventable hospitalizations per 1,000 Medicare enrollees
  • Suicide rate
  • Violent crime rate
  • Air and water quality (Minnesota shared the “Best” score on this measurement with nine other states.)

Minnesota also outscored Wisconsin on three of four important education measures. Minnesota had more 3- and 4-year-old children enrolled in preschool, a smaller percentage of people aged 16 and older without basic literacy skills, and a greater percentage of adults aged 25 and older with a high-school diploma or college degree. On the fourth education measure — the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds with a high-school diploma — the two states were essentially tied.

“There are many, many studies that demonstrate a connection between the number of years of education that people obtain and their income and also their relative health,” said Timberlake. “People use that additional income to live in safer neighborhoods and to buy higher-quality food and health-care coverage.”

Advantage: Wisconsin

The Badger State outshone Minnesota on other health indicators, however, including the following:

  • Percent of children (19-35 months) who receive recommended vaccines
  • Percent of children (aged 0-18 years) without health insurance
  • Percent of adults eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily
  • Percent of low-income people who live within a reasonable distance of a grocery store (within 1 mile in urban areas and within 10 miles in rural ones)
  • Percent of fast-food restaurants
  • Syphilis rate

Timberlake noted that Wisconsin’s higher child-vaccination rate is probably linked to its higher rate of children with health insurance.

“If you don’t have coverage, it’s easy to put off the visit to the doctor,” she said.

Room for improvement

The report suggests that both states have plenty of room for improvement. For example, both scored below the national average in the percent of adults who are excessive drinkers, the percent of adults eating five servings of fruits and veggies daily, and government public health spending per capita.

“In Wisconsin, we seem to have a tolerance of heavy drinking or even binge drinking,” said Timberlake. She pointed out that a recent survey of Wisconsinites found that although more than half of the respondents said the state had a heavy-drinking problem, most also said that downing five or more drinks on one occasion did not constitute binge drinking.

The state needs to do a better job of educating its residents about alcohol abuse, said Timberlake. “We have our work cut out for us,” she said. “We have much more to do.”

You can download the new report, "Opportunities to Make Wisconsin the Healthiest State," [PDF] from the UW Population Health Institute website.

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