Vermont ranked as healthiest state in U.S.
This marks the second straight year Vermont has achieved the ranking. Louisiana was ranked the least healthy state.
Dr. Wendy Davis, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, said the ranking is a product of the efforts of the state's health care professionals.
"Obviously, we're very excited about having achieved the top ranking for the second year in a row," Davis said. "I think it really reflects the payoff of the moves we've been making."
Education is key
Vermont fared well in several health indicators used for the rankings, including high school graduation (fourth in the nation), low violent crime (second) and public health funding (third).
"The high school graduation rate seems to correlate with people's understanding of health," Davis said. "Graduating high school seems to add the ability to make healthy choices."
Davis, though, said the state can not afford to rest on its laurels.
"As pleased as we are, it's clear there are some areas where there's work to be done," Davis said. "We are in the mindset that we need to do better."
One such area is the prevalence of binge drinking, where Vermont ranked 38th in the nation.
Davis said the department was aware of this problem, and had already begun work toward improving the situation.
"One of our approaches to public health is to collect a lot of data for use," Davis said. "That's one area we've been working on even without these folks calling attention to it."
Davis said the department is attempting to fix the problem from the bottom up.
"What we do is obtain federal funding and give it to communities in the state," Davis said. "It's important to realize that each community is different, and they'll likely have a better understanding of what problems they face than us at the state level."
Another area in which Vermont fared poorly was immunization coverage, ranking 29th in the country. The report said 79 percent of children aged 19 to 35 months had received immunizations, down from 86 percent last year.
"I have a background as a pediatrician, so that part is concerning to me," Davis said. "What happens when you don't immunize is childhood diseases come roaring back."
Dan Johnson, the executive director of the United Health Foundation, said the America's Health Rankings have been in existence for 19 years, making them the longest-running health rankings.
"Twenty-two different measures went into the overall rankings," Johnson said. "Most are overall health determinants, like obesity and the number of children in poverty."
Johnson, though, said the country at large had failed to improve its health system over the past year.
"The good news is that people are living longer with chronic disease," Johnson said. "Our largest challenges continues to be smoking we've not seen a significant reduction in smoking rates since the '90s."
Johnson said other problems exist as well.
"The prevalence of obesity is not just stagnant it's growing," Johnson said. "The rate has doubled since we started taking the rankings."
Johnson said, though, the worsening economy could make it harder to address the country's health issues.
"We're reporting health has stagnated, though there's been decent economic improvement over the past few years," Johnson said. "We're seriously concerned about how the economic climate may affect binge drinking and domestic violence."
"The states that are typically in the lowest quadrant of the rankings are states that face socioeconomic challenges," Johnson added.
More information about the rankings can be found at www.americashealthrankings.org.
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