The 29th annual report of America’s Health Rankings published last week highlights the fact that where you live heavily influences your health. The report evaluates 35 different social and physical determinants of health and markers of health “covering behaviors, community and environment, policy, clinical care and outcomes data.” There is some bad news in the report (especially for those living in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) but some good news, too, regarding the health of the nation (and especially in states such as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and Utah which rank at the top) as we look hopefully to a healthier new year.

As one might expect, obesity and chronic diseases continue to negatively impact the nation’s overall life and death statistics:

The nation’s obesity rate rose 5 percent in the past year, with one in three adults now experiencing obesity. Subpopulation data show that adults aged 25 and older with a college degree have a lower prevalence of obesity than all other education levels. Obesity continues to be a leading cause of cardiovascular disease and cancer — chronic diseases that are contributing to premature death rates.


Heart disease and cancer continue to be the predominant causes of premature death in the U.S.:

The cardiovascular death rate has been rising for the past three years, with 112,403 more deaths reported in 2018 than in 2015. Despite a decline in the national cancer death rate since 1990, more than 30 states have experienced increases or have not seen their cancer death rates improve significantly. Only 19 states have seen significant decreases in cancer deaths during this time.


Suicides and drug deaths from overdoses also saw significant increases in 2018. Occupational fatalities increased due to this chilling reason:

Notably, while transportation incidents make up the largest portion of occupational fatalities, the greatest increase in the past year has been workplace violence.


Thankfully, there are silver linings in the report that can provide a measure of hope for 2019 and beyond. Although not uniform across states, childhood poverty in the U.S. dropped 6% in 2018. Even better, in the past three years, childhood poverty has decreased by 19%. Here is why progress on this particular health marker is so important:

Exposure to chronic stress associated with financial hardship — including unreliable access to food, health care and stable housing — may impair childhood development and affect health into adulthood.


Depending on your zip code, there may be more health professionals available in your community to help keep you and your family healthy:

The country’s ability to address the pressing challenges identified by the report may be improving with increased rates of mental health and primary care providers. In the past year, mental health providers increased 8 percent and primary care physicians increased 5 percent nationwide.


Compared to other states in 2018, Pennsylvania was somewhere near the middle of the rankings — 28th out of 50 states overall — scoring better on policy issues (eg. childhood immunizations, public health funding, health insurance coverage — 17th) and clinical care (number of medical, dental, and mental health providers, rates of low birthweight — 19th) and worse on personal behaviors (excessive drinking, smoking, obesity, high school graduation rates, physical inactivity — 33rd), health outcomes (cancer deaths, heart attacks, diabetes, mental and physical distress, infant mortality, premature death — 33rd), and community and environment health markers (air pollution, childhood poverty, infectious diseases, violent crime, occupational fatalities — 28th). According to the report, Pennsylvania’s strongest health advantages include a higher number of primary care physicians, a smaller uninsured population, and a low occupational fatality rate. The state’s challenges include high levels of air pollution, a higher prevalence of frequent physical distress, and relatively low public health funding compared to other states.

Certainly, Pennsylvania and the other 49 states have plenty of room for improvement in 2019. Here’s hoping for a Happy and Healthy New Year for everyone!


(Google Images — United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings)