The 23rd America’s Health Rankings report shows Americans are living longer, but preventable illness and unhealthy behaviors are limiting quality of life. The report is jointly published by United Health Foundation, APHA and Partnership for Prevention.

The 2012 edition of America’s Health Rankings out today reports that medical advances are helping Americans live longer, but their quality of life is suffering due to preventable illness and unhealthy behaviors.

According to the report, premature, cardiovascular and cancer deaths have declined since 1990, but Americans are experiencing troubling levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and sedentary behavior. In fact, nearly 28 percent of the population is obese and more than 26 percent gets no exercise, resulting in increasing prevalence of diabetes and high blood pressure

“As a nation, we’ve made extraordinary gains in longevity over the past decades, but as individuals we are regressing in our health,” said Reed Tuckson, MD, medical adviser, United Health Foundation, and executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, UnitedHealth Group, in a statement. “Longer lives need not be sicker lives, so we must all come together to do more to prevent the risk factors within our personal control.”

The report, published jointly by the United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention, also demonstrates that where people live matters. In its ranking of all U.S. states, it reveals significant differences that define the five healthiest states — Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Minnesota — and the least healthy — Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia and South Carolina. Chief among them are tobacco use and sedentary behavior.

While smoking rates in the five healthiest states range from 16.8 percent to 19.4 percent of the adult population, smoking rates are between 23.1 percent and 28.6 percent in the five least healthy states. Likewise, 27.2 percent to 36 percent of the population leads sedentary lives in the five least healthy states, compared with between 21 percent and 23.5 percent of the population in the five healthiest states.

Reed Tuckson speaks at lectern to release the 2012 America's Health Rankings report

Reed Tuckson, medical adviser with United Health Foundation, discusses the findings of America’s Health Rankings during a national webcast to release the 2012 report. Photo courtesy Ralph Alswang

Socioeconomic factors are also key influencers of health. The top five states reflect higher median household income and lower unemployment. And the child poverty rate ranges between 8.6 percent and 16.4 percent of residents in the five healthiest states, and is between 24.4 percent and 30.5 percent in the least healthy.

“The America’s Health Rankings report is a call to action for individuals — and the communities in which they live — to do something about the nation’s health crisis now,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

In a related commentary, Tuckson acknowledges the enormous contributions of public health workers in assuring the health of communities.

“Too often lost and taken for granted in the maze of all this are the essential efforts of the 450,000 public health professionals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to promote health and prevent disease.” He warns, “Despite their hard work, support for our nation’s vital public health infrastructure at the federal, state and local levels may be at risk and, as a result, so too is the health and the financial well-being of our nation.”

For more about the report, including additional commentaries, a resource library and interactive maps, visit www.americashealthrankings.org.

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