Montana made no progress in improving its overall health in 2011, according to a national survey.
For the third consecutive year, Montana is ranked No. 25, after inching forward from its 26th-place ranking in both 2008 and 2009, according to America's Health Rankings. Montana was at its healthiest in 1990, when it was ranked 12th in the nation.
For the second consecutive year, Wyoming is ranked at No. 21. It had ranked 19th in 2009 and 2010. Wyoming’s strengths include a low incidence of infectious disease, low percentage of children in poverty, low levels of air pollution and a low rate of violent crime. The state continues to be challenged with a limited availability of primary care physicians and a high occupational fatality rate.
Helping Montana retain its middle-of-the-pack ranking are three strengths: a lower prevalence of obesity, 23.5 percent, than most other states; low levels of air pollution; and a low prevalence of diabetes.
The challenges are identical to last year: Low immunization rates among children ages 19 to 35 months, at 83.3 percent; a high occupational fatality rate at eight deaths per 100,000 workers; and the high geographic disparity within the state. Geographic disparity measures the variation in the age-adjusted mortality rate among counties within a state.
With an immunization rate of 83.3 percent, Montana ranks 50th in immunization coverage for children ages 19 to 35 months, signaling that Montana’s children might be at higher risk of illness or death caused by infectious disease.
Montana dropped to 50th place in 2011 for immunization coverage after being ranked 47th in 2010.
"Vaccine-preventable diseases have social and economic costs," said Dr. Bill Mandell, medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Montana. "Sick children miss school and can cause parents to lose time from work. These diseases also result in doctor’s visits, hospitalizations and sometimes premature deaths."
Anna Whiting Sorrell, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said the ranking demonstrates that Montanans recognize the importance of a healthy lifestyle and applauded the state’s obesity rate that continues to be lower than most other states.
“We’ll continue to work on the areas where we didn’t grade as high, but overall, Montana can be proud of its work in public health,” Whiting Sorrell said.
For the sixth consecutive year, Vermont is the nation’s healthiest state. New Hampshire is ranked second this year, an improvement from ranking third last year. Connecticut is No. 3, followed by Hawaii and Massachusetts.
Mississippi is ranked 50th, while Louisiana is 49th. Oklahoma, Arkansas and Alabama complete the bottom five states.
The overall trends in the report cite smoking as the greatest health challenge of the past 20 years and indicate that obesity is likely to be the next national health battle. Diabetes also is increasing rapidly in the U.S., adversely affecting the quality of life.
State rankings are determined by evaluating four factors: behaviors; the environment and the community in which people live; public policy and health policy decisions; and practices of the government and clinical care received.
The survey was conducted by the United Health Foundation, a nonprofit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care.