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Minnesota cited as 4th ‘healthiest state’ for second year in a row

Minnesota’s most positive health attributes in 2016 are its low rate of drug deaths, its low percentage of children in poverty, and its low percentage of people without health insurance.

The three states that “bested” Minnesota in 2016 were Hawaii, which was rated No. 1, followed by Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Minnesota is the fourth healthiest state in the country for the second consecutive year, according to the Minnetonka-based United Health Foundation’s 2016 America’s Health Rankings Annual Report.

That’s better than being ranked sixth in 2014, but not as good as being third in 2012 and 2013 — or topping the list for six of seven years from 2000 to 2006. (During that run, we slipped to second place only during 2001.)

The three states that “bested” Minnesota in 2016 were Hawaii, which was rated No. 1, followed by Massachusetts and Connecticut. But Minnesota did much better than any of its immediate neighbors, of whom North Dakota scored best (11th), followed by Iowa (17th), Wisconsin (20th) and South Dakota (24th).

Iowa won “most improved” state, however, for rising five spots in 2016 (from 22nd a year before), primarily because of a huge improvement in its childhood immunization rates and in its public funding for health-care services. On the other hand, South Dakota dropped five spots, due to a variety of factors, including a high incidence of infectious diseases and low immunization of teenagers.

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As in past years, Southern states filled the bottom slots in the 2016 rankings, with Mississippi dropping to last place, replacing Louisiana (now 49th). Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma were not far ahead of them.

Many measures

Published annually since 1990, America’s Health Rankings uses 34 measures of health in five broad categories: behaviors (such as excessive drinking and smoking rates), community and environmental factors (such as child poverty and air pollution), public policies (such as percentage of people lacking health insurance), clinical care factors (such as ratio of primary care physicians to population) and health outcomes (such as death rates for heart disease and cancer).

Data for the report comes from such sources as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Census Bureau.

Several major national trends are highlighted in this year’s report, including these two positive ones:

  • During the 27 years that the United Health Foundation has been publishing its rankings, smoking has decreased nationally by 41 percent. In 1990, 28 percent of American smoked. Today, 17.5 percent do. Even more encouraging is the finding that 17 percent of that decrease occurred during the past four years alone.
  • The percentage of uninsured Americans fell 35 percent during the past five years, from 16.2 percent in 2011 to 10.6 percent in 2016 — the lowest point in the report’s history.

Both those trends may be reversed in the near future, however. The number of uninsured Americans is expected to surge if congressional Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump follow through on their stated goal to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a clear and well-funded replacement. And if they succeed in their plans for new tobacco-related policies, such as ending funding for smoke-free public housing and removing tobacco products from the Food and Drug Administration’s responsibilities (as reported by the Washington Post), smoking rates may rise as well.

‘Serious challenges’

The United Health Foundation 2016 report also points to several national trends that present “serious challenges,” all of which have made news earlier this year in other reports and journals: 

  • For the first time in the 27 years of the United Health Foundation’s rankings, the rate of cardiovascular deaths increased (from 250.8 to 251.7 deaths per 100,000).
  • Drug deaths rose 9 percent during the past five years, and 4 percent in just the past year (from 13.5 to 14.0 deaths per 100,000).
  • The premature death rate climbed for the second year in a row.
  • The nation’s obesity rate has jumped 157 percent during the report’s history, (from 11.6 percent in 1990 to 29.8 percent in 2016).

Minnesota’s details

According to the report, Minnesota’s most positive health attributes in 2016 are its low (compared to the other states) rate of drug deaths, (9.3 per 100,000 residents), its low percentage of children in poverty (8 percent) and its low percentage of people without health insurance (5.2 percent).

The state’s “challenges,” according to the report, are its high prevalence of excessive drinking (21 percent of adults), its high incidence of pertussis, or whooping cough, (17.5 cases per 100,000 population) and its low per capita spending on public health ($47 per person).

Here are the report’s other “highlights” for Minnesota: 

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  • In the past five years, drug deaths increased 31% from 7.1 to 9.3 deaths per 100,000 population.
  • In the past year, children in poverty decreased 33% from 11.9% to 8.0% of children.
  • In the past year, meningococcal immunization among adolescents aged 13 to 17 years increased 11%, from 75.5% to 83.6%.
  • In the past eight years, preventable hospitalizations decreased 43% from 65.6 to 37.1 discharges per 1,000 Medicare enrollees.
  • In the past year, disparity in health status by education increased 4% from 24.6% to 25.7%.

FMI: You can read the 2016 rankings report in full on the United Health Foundation’s website. The website also has an interactive page dedicated to Minnesota, where you can visually explore how the state ranks nationally on each of the 34 measures.