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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Minnesota Still No. 6 in health rankings

This article appeared in the Star Tribune on 12/7/2010, reported by Chen May Yee.

Minnesota is the sixth-healthiest state in the nation, according to the latest ranking by United Health Foundation.

While the ranking is no worse -- or no better, depending on your perspective -- than last year, it's far from the No. 1 position the state held as recently as 2006.

"Overall, we continue to be relatively much healthier than the rest of the country," said Dr. Reed Tuckson, an executive vice president at Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group. "What's worrisome is the risk factors for key diseases seem to be getting worse."

Vermont topped the list of healthiest states again, followed by Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Hawaii.

The wide-ranging study, called "America's Health Rankings," looks at outcomes such as infant mortality, deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and sick days. It also weighs the prevalence of obesity, smoking and binge drinking as well as health insurance coverage, public health funding and immunization in each state.

Finally, researchers take into account factors such as air pollution, violent crime and the number of children living in poverty.

"We are pleased that we are solidly in the top 10," said Minnesota commissioner of health Dr. Sanne Magnan. "We always like to be above average and heading to Number 1."

Binge drinking up

While Minnesota ranked first in the nation on outcomes, it ranked seventh on so-called determinants, which include behaviors and traits that bode ill for the future. Among other things, more Minnesotans are binge drinking, with 20.0 percent of the adult population doing so, up from 17.2 percent a year ago. Minnesota ranked close to worst in the nation for binge drinking, at 48th place, with North Dakota 49th and Wisconsin 50th.

Binge drinking is defined as males having five or more drinks on one occasion and females having four or more drinks on one occasion. "Unfortunately, we are part of a belt of northern states where alcohol use and binge drinking are prevalent," Magnan said. She said the state needed to work to change cultural norms so it's less acceptable for people to binge drink, much the way smoking has become less socially acceptable.

Bigger waistlines

Minnesota waistlines are also expanding, with 25.3 percent of the population now obese, compared with 15.5 percent 10 years ago. Minnesota ranked 13th in the nation for prevalence of obesity.

The state ranked 46th in the nation for public health funding, at $45 per person. Vermont, for example, spends $177 per person. Magnan said the Minnesota figure was an understatement because it does not include additional public health spending by counties and cities.

But fewer people are dying from cardiovascular disease. In the past 10 years, the rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease fell from 286.3 to 206.3 deaths per 100,000 population. Asked if that reflected citywide smoking bans, UnitedHealth's Tuckson said the data did not provide that level of detail.

The concern, he added, was that with more obesity and binge drinking, "you're producing a tsunami of preventable chronic illness being delivered to the shores of an increasingly unaffordable delivery system."

UnitedHealth Foundation, which produces the annual rankings, is part of UnitedHealth Group, the country's biggest health insurer by revenue.

Click here to access the complete report for Minnesota.

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