Washington state is ranked as 11th healthiest by United Health Foundation, up from 13th in 2008

Washington state is the nation’s 11th healthiest state, according to the 2009 edition of America’s Health Rankings, an annual report published by the United Health Foundation, the nonprofit arm of health insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc.

Washington moved up from last year’s No. 13 ranking.

Vermont was ranked the healthiest state overall; Mississippi was the least healthy.

The report focused on concerns such as obesity, smoking, binge drinking, access to health care, health policies, community and environmental conditions, and clinical care data.

According to the report, Washington’s strengths include a low prevalence of smoking, at 15.7 percent of the population; a low percentage of children in poverty at 13.2 percent of persons under age 18; a low infant mortality rate at 4.9 deaths per 1,000 live births and a low rate of preventable hospitalizations.

The state has some educational challenges. The report noted that Washington has a low high-school graduation rate with only 72.9 percent of incoming ninth graders graduating within four years.

The report was released in mid-November by United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention. It’s part of the 20th Anniversary Edition of America’s Health Ranking.

The 2009 Rankings identifies the need to change unhealthy behaviors that contribute to preventable, chronic diseases as the key to improving the nation’s health.

The nation has become adept at treating certain illnesses and diseases, but Americans are not modifying risk factors that contribute to chronic diseases.

Tobacco consumption and obesity have emerged as the two priorities that threaten the health of the nation. While tobacco use dropped from 19.8 percent of the population last year to 18.3 percent this year, approximately 440,000 deaths annually are still attributable to this preventable behavior.

Obesity has increased nearly 130 percent since the first edition of America’s Health Rankings was issued 20 years ago. Currently, 27 percent of the population is considered to be obese.

The United States currently spends more per capita than any other nation on health care, including $1.8 trillion in medical costs associated with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which can be linked to these national risk factors.

Washington’s Health Checkup

This year, the Rankings not only provided an annual list of the healthiest and least healthy states, but also determined how Washington ranked when compared to other states against the nation’s biggest health challenges since 1990.

— 2009 State Ranking: 11th

— 2009 Smoking and Obesity Rank-

ings: (based on a comparison of

the incidence rates among all 50


— Prevalence of Smoking: 6th

— Prevalence of Obesity: 23rd

— 20-Year Ranking in Smoking and

Obesity: (based on a comparison

of the incidence rates in 1990

among all 50 states to today’s


— Prevalence of Smoking: 12.9 per

cent decrease in smoking

from 28.6 percent in 1990 to 15.7

percent in 2009

— Prevalence of Obesity: 16.6

percent increase in obesity from

9.4 percent in 1990 to 26 per-

cent in 2009

— If obesity rates in Washington con-

tinue to rise at their current levels,

obesity is projected to cost

$7.25 billion, or $1,333+ per adult,

for state health care spending.

Washington’s 2009 health strengths include low prevalence of smoking; low percentage of children in poverty (9th or 13.2 percent); low infant mortality rate (2nd or 4.9 deaths per 1,000 live births).

Areas of improvement for Washington include low high school graduation rate (34th or 72.9 percent) and high geographic disparity within state (33rd or 12.5 relative standard deviation).

Results from the nation’sonly 20-year scorecard

As the health care reform debate continues, the 20th Anniversary Edition of America’s Health Rankings has identified trends that support the need to ensure prevention is part of the solution.

The persistent use of tobacco and unprecedented rates of obesity are limiting improvements in national health outcomes.

Despite focused efforts, nearly one in five Americans still smoke. Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the country.

Over the past year, however, more than 3 million people have quit smoking, suggesting that smoke-free laws, smoking bans, increased cigarette taxes, access to smoking cessation programs and other interventions can make an impact.

Obesity is growing faster than any previous chronic health issue our nation has faced. Today, more than one in four Americans are considered obese. If current trends continue, 103 million American adults — or 43 percent of the population — will be considered obese in 2018, making obesity the nation’s next health battle.

Over the past 20 years, the nation has seen significant declines in crime rates, infectious disease, smoking and infant mortality rates.

Challenges since 1990 include the rising uninsured rate, lack of progress in increasing high school graduation rates and the need to continue to improve access to adequate prenatal care for pregnant women.

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