Preventable chronic disease on the rise

Increases in obesity, diabetes and children in poverty are offsetting improvements in smoking cessation, preventable hospitalizations and cardiovascular deaths, according to the United Health Foundation’s 2011 America’s Health Rankings.

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.

Though there were some positive trends, the report showed, that was offset by some “troubling increases” which include obesity, diabetes and children in poverty.

The fact that the country didn’t improve in overall health status means there was a balance between improvements and detriments across all 23 measures of health in the report. An 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.

According to this year’s report, obesity has increased 137 percent, from 11.6 percent of the adult population in 1990 to 27.5 percent in 2011. This means that today, more than one in four American adults (65 million people) is considered obese. Obesity continues to be one of the fastest-growing health issues in the nation, and America is spending $147 billion in direct health care costs associated with poor diet and physical inactivity.

“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,” says Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, UnitedHealth Group.

State rankings

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,” Tuckson says. “Every state can make improvements to ensure healthier quality of lives for their residents.”

“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,” he says.


By the numbers

The good:

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.

The bad:

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.


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