America's Health Report Card: Needs Improvement

Vermont Named Healthiest State; Mississippi Least Healthy

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on December 06, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 6, 2011 -- Americans' health report card is out, and there's plenty of room for improvement. That's especially true if you live in Mississippi and less true if you call Vermont home.

For the fifth year in a row, Vermont earned the title of the healthiest state in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation, a nonprofit organization that issues the annual rankings. Mississippi was last.

Overall, the picture is not good. Obesity, diabetes, and children living in poverty are all on the rise in the U.S. That bad news more than offset improvements such as fewer smokers and fewer deaths from heart disease.

The foundation evaluated 23 different measures to assess health. Overall, the country's health did not improve in the last year, despite the growing number of people who have quit smoking. For every person who quit smoking last year, one person became obese.

Grading the States

State by state, health status varies widely. The top five:

  • Vermont
  • New Hampshire
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Massachusetts

The bottom five, with the worst first:

  • Mississippi
  • Louisiana
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Alabama

The Good and Bad of 2011

A quick look at the statistics:

  • Smoking is down. While 17.9% of the U.S. population smoked in 2010, 17.3% did in 2011.
  • Heart disease deaths are down. In 2010, 278 people of every 100,000 died of heart disease or stroke. In 2011, 270 per 100,000 did.
  • Diabetes is on the rise -- from 8.3% of the population in 2010 to 8.7% this year.
  • Obesity is up. While 26.9% of the population was obese in 2010, this year 27.5% is obese.
  • Impoverished children are more common. In 2010, 20.7% of children lived in poverty. This year, 21.5% do.

Meanwhile, the United Health Foundation is launching a "Take Action for Change" campaign on its Facebook page. For every person who pledges an act of health, the foundation will donate $.25 to a nonprofit organization involved in improving the nation's health. The maximum donation will be $50,000.

Click here to see how all the states stacked up on the foundation's 2011 report card.