Filed Under:  Health & Wellness, Local, News

La. receives ranking of 48th in overall health

23rd December 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Patrick Welch
Contributing Writer

Louisiana residents and Americans in general are making a small bit of progress in their overall health, according to the 2013 edition of the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings: A Call to Action for Individuals & Their Communities. Published jointly by United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention, Health Rankings evaluates health, environmental and socioeconomic data to determine national health benchmarks and rankings state-by-state.

According to the ranking’s new 24th edition, Louisiana still suffers from physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes as well as a high percentage of child poverty, a high infant mortality rate and a high prevalence of low birth weight.

But though ranked 48th out of 50 in overall health, Louisiana did come up one place from last year. And according to the report, our state suffers only a small disparity in health status by educational attainment, and also boasts a high immunization rate among adolescents and a low incidence of pertussis infections.

The report ranked Hawaii as the healthiest state. Last year’s number-one, Vermont, ranked second this year, with Minnesota taking third, followed by Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The country gained in several key behavioral measures: though one-in-five adults still smokes, smoking dropped nationwide from 21.2 percent to 19.6 percent. Physical inactivity dropped from 26.2 percent of the adult population to 22.9 percent, and America’s obesity rate dropped two tenths of one percent to 27.6 marking the first time since 1998 that obesity rates have not gotten worse.

American overall is still burdened with a tenacious diabetes rate of 9.7 percent, and the Southern United States especially has a long way to go. In these new rankings, Mississippi came in dead last, just under Arkansas (49), Louisiana (48), Alabama (47) and West Virginia (46). The full list can be found at www.americashealthrankings.org.

The report’s data comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, FBI, Dartmouth Atlas Project, U.S. Department of Education, Census Bureau and other sources.

“This report is an important tool for designing meaningful programs to address our biggest challenges and to help us measure the progress we’ve made in our efforts to date,” said Dr. Penny S. Walker, Sr., medical director for United Healthcare-Southeast Region.

To that end, Louisiana’s United Healthcare branch has created several programs to address statewide health challenges. In conjunction with the American Heart Association’s project, Start! Walking Paths, the UnitedHealth Group made a three-year, $1.95 million commitment to create 150 new walking paths throughout the United States. New Orleans’s first walking path opened across from City Hall in May 2012, followed by a residential path in Palmer Park in Uptown New Orleans, with a third as-yet-decided location in the works.

United Health Foundation has also partnered with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and with the National Business Coalition on Health to create learning laboratories that identify and promote best practices and innovations in public health. Likewise, the program “Heart Smart Sisters” teams United Healthcare with clinics and community and faith-based organizations to offer classes to educate women about the causes of heart disease, the benefits of a healthy diet, and the importance of regular exercise to help reduce their risk of developing heart disease. The Foundation also supports activities that expand access to quality healthcare services. Since its founding in 1999, the Foundation has committed more than $210 million to improve health and health care.

“We are proud of the progress we’ve achieved, but we recognize that it takes time to address generations of challenges,” qualified Ken Pastorick, officer of communications at the Louisiana Depart­ment of Health and Hospitals. “Foundational reforms like the implementation of Bayou Health, the Louisiana Behavioral Health Partnership and public-private partnerships for the state public hospital system are yielding enormous improvements in the way care is delivered in our state.”

Pastorick says further improvements will build from areas where the state has historically done well, like immunization rates for children, plus newer initiatives like the “Let’s Be Totally Clear” smoke-free environments campaign and “Living Well in Louisiana,” which promotes healthy eating and exercise.

“We will keep fighting and working with our partners,” promises Pastorick, “to move these efforts forward and explore new ways to improve health for our state.”

This article originally published in the December 23, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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