Montana ranks 23rd-healthiest state in nation

2013-12-11T00:15:00Z 2013-12-11T14:10:06Z Montana ranks 23rd-healthiest state in nationBy CINDY UKEN cuken@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Montanans aren’t as fat as they were a year ago. But don’t reach for that extra piece of fudge yet.

While the prevalence of obesity and diabetes in Montana is among the lowest in the nation, there are still an estimated 190,000 obese adults and 55,000 adults with diabetes in the state, according to an annual report that has measured the overall healthiness of Americans for 24 years.

One in 14 Montanans has diabetes, compared to one in 10 nationally. And, when it comes to the bathroom scale, 24.3 percent of adults in Montana are obese compared to 27.6 percent nationally.

Montana was ranked the 23rd-healthiest state, up five spots over last year’s report, according to America’s Health Rankings. Montana was at its healthiest in 1990, when it was ranked 12th.

Wyoming lost ground, falling 11 spots to 34. It had ranked 19th in 2009 and 2010.

Hawaii is the healthiest state, followed by Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts and New Hampshire; Mississippi is least healthy.

In addition to its improved marks in the categories of obesity and diabetes, Montana’s other strengths include low levels of air pollution and low rates of cancer deaths.

Its key challenges are a high prevalence of binge drinking, a large uninsured population and a limited availability of primary-care physicians.

Richard Opper, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said he is proud that Montana is showing improvement in several key areas.

“With Gov. Bullock’s commitment to improving the health of Montana residents, I’m confident we’ll continue to build on the progress we’ve made,” Opper said. Earlier this year, Bullock released a new public health plan — Big Sky. New Horizons. A Healthier Montana. — which focuses on prevention, saving health care dollars and creating a common agenda for health improvement. This plan included input from more than 130 public health organizations.

“While we’ve made progress, this report identifies the high rate of uninsured Montanans as one of our lingering challenges,” Opper said. “Unfortunately, the Legislature missed the opportunity to address this challenge by failing to build a made-in-Montana solution that would expand coverage and further improve the health of our residents. We remain committed to expanding coverage to the working poor in Montana.”

The report helps RiverStone Health, Yellowstone County’s public health agency, design programs, implement policies and gauge progress in providing opportunities for all Montanans, said John Felton, president and CEO of RiverStone Health.

“Many of the indicators used to measure health progress are reflective of the fact that health begins long before we reach the doctor’s office,” Felton said. “Quitting smoking, increasing physical activity and getting a flu shot are all things that we can do today to improve our health.”

Along with individual responsibility, there are policy interventions RiverStone and others can implement. For example, the report indicates that a high percentage of residents don’t have health insurance. By ensuring that everyone can afford to see a doctor before they are sick, through the expansion of Medicaid, Montana will see its ranking continue to rise, he said.

The rankings, compiled for the United Health Foundation, provide a national look at health problems — and progress — in all 50 states. Researchers pulled data from agencies that included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Census Bureau and American Medical Association to tailor the annual list. This year’s report shows that Americans improved in most measures captured in the rankings. The most notable gains came in key behavioral measures, including smoking, which dropped from 21.2 percent of the adult population to 19.6 percent.

In Montana, 19.7 percent of people smoke. The Healthy People 2020 goal is 12 percent. Healthy People is a set of goals and objectives released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designed to guide national health promotion and disease prevention efforts.

Nationwide, physical activity dropped from 26.2 percent of the adult population to 22.9 percent, and America’s obesity rate remained approximately the same as reported in 2012 — 27.6 percent of the adult population in 2013 compared with 27.8 percent in 2012. This marks the first time since 1998 that obesity rates have not worsened.

In Montana, 20.5 percent, or about one in five, adults are physically active.

Though there have been some gains, there is still a great deal of work to be done, said Dr. Reed Tuckson, a medical adviser to United Health Foundation.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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