Preventable Chronic Disease on the Rise; Obesity, Diabetes Undermining Country’s Overall Health

chartUnited Health Foundation’s 2011 America’s Heath Rankings finds that troubling increases in obesity, diabetes and children in poverty are offsetting improvements in smoking cessation, preventable hospitalizations and cardiovascular deaths. The report finds that the country’s overall health did not improve between 2010 and 2011 – a drop from the 0.5 percent average annual rate of improvement between 2000 and 2010 and the 1.6 percent average annual rate of improvement seen in the 1990s.

Highlights of the report:

  • Nation made no progress in improving health in 2011 after three years of gains
  • Modest decreases in smoking and preventable hospitalizations
  • Dramatic increases in obesity and diabetes, combined with still-too-high levels of tobacco use, are putting more people at risk for preventable illness and higher health expenditures
  • The Rankings indicates that every person that quit smoking in 2011 was offset by a person becoming obese
  • 2011 is the first year no state had an obesity prevalence under 20 percent
  • United Health Foundation launches “Take Action for Change” Facebook campaign to incent healthy behavior

State Rankings: Vermont Still on Top

For the fifth year in a row, Vermont is the nation’s healthiest state. States that showed the most substantial improvement include New York and New Jersey, both moving up six places, largely because of improvements made in smoking cessation. Idaho and Alaska showed the most downward movement. Idaho dropped 10 spots, from number nine to 19 in this year’s Rankings, and Alaska dropped five places.

“Where people live matters. Every state can make improvements to ensure healthier quality of lives for their residents,” said Reed Tuckson, M.D., United Health Foundation board member and executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, UnitedHealth Group. “In the history of the Rankings, we have seen many examples of stakeholders coming together to improve their standing. States such as Tennessee and Maine – which made explicit efforts to improve their rankings – have shown us that improved public health is achievable but must be tackled in a concerted and aggressive way.”

“The Rankings provides comprehensive data states can use to develop prevention solutions and health-improvement plans – empowering their residents to live long, healthy and productive lives,” said Jud Richland, M.P.H., president and CEO of Partnership for Prevention.

This year’s Rankings, which offers a state-by-state snapshot of population health based on 23 measures, includes several positive nationwide trends:

  • Smoking cessation: 17.3 percent of the population smoked in 2011, down from 17.9 percent in 2010 – a 3.4 percent decline since 2010; a 25.4 percent decline since 2001.
  • Preventable hospitalizations: 68.2 preventable hospitalizations per 1,000 Medicare enrollees in 2011, down from 70.6 preventable hospitalizations in 2010 – a 3.4 percent decline since 2010; a 17.3 percent decline since 2001.
  • Cardiovascular deaths: 270.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2011, down from 278.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2010 – a 2.8 percent decline since 2010; a 22.2 percent decline since 2001.

These improvements were offset by troubling increases in:

  • Obesity: 27.5 percent of the adult population in 2011, up from 26.9 percent of the adult population in 2010 – a 2.2 percent increase since 2010; a 37.5 percent increase since 2001; 2011 is the first year when no state had an obesity prevalence under 20 percent.
  • Diabetes: 8.7 percent in 2011, up from 8.3 percent in 2010 – a 4.8 percent increase since 2010; a 42.6 percent increase since 2001.
  • Children in poverty: 21.5 percent in 2011, up from 20.7 percent in 2010 – a 3.9 percent increase since 2010; a 33.5 percent increase since 2001.

graphThe fact that the country did not improve in overall health status means there was a balance between improvements and detriments across all 23 measures. A compelling example of this stagnation is the improvement in the number of smokers being offset by worsening rates of obesity: the Rankings found that, for every person who quit smoking in 2011, another person became obese.

“While this year’s Rankings shows some important improvements, we also see some very alarming trends – particularly diabetes and obesity – that, left unchecked, will put further strain on our country’s already strained health care resources,” said Dr. Tuckson. “At a time when the nation, states and individual families are grappling with tightening budgets and growing health care expenses, this year’s Rankings sends a loud wakeup call that the burden of preventable chronic disease will continue to get worse unless we take urgent action.

“Broad collaboration is the only path to health and financial progress. Government, the private sector, philanthropy and community-based organizations all need to join in a data-driven process to determine and address priorities,” Dr. Tuckson added.

“Addressing the leading causes of these largely preventable diseases is essential if we are going to improve the nation’s health,” said Georges C. Benjamin, M.D., executive director of the American Public Health Association. “America’s Health Rankings gives us a tool to gauge where we are and where we need to go, and the numbers should drive us to action.”

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