Friday December 14, 2012

It’s always nice being the best at something. Here in Vermont we can take pride in being the healthiest state in the union.

For six years running the Green Mountain State has been rated first in the nation in overall health by the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Ranking. Hawaii is ranked second, followed by New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Minnesota. The five least healthy states are South Carolina (46), West Virginia (47), Arkansas (48), and Mississippi and Louisiana, which tied for the 49th slot.

Vermont achieved its ranking because of its high rate of high school graduation, low incidence of infectious disease, low prevalence of low birthweight, and low rate of uninsured population. Some of the factors contributing to these successes include good pre-natal care and active lifestyles.

"It’s something that means a lot to us in terms of ensuring that Vermonters have healthy, productive lives, the best quality of life in the country," Gov. Peter Shumlin said as he joined Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen in announcing the state’s top ranking.

The foundation’s report shows that Americans in general are living longer due to medical advances. This year’s rankings show that premature death has declined 18 percent in the last 23 years.

However, these improved survival rates are offset by escalating rates of chronic illness, with unhealthy behavior and preventable illness threatening the quality of life for many Americans. Nationwide, nearly 28 percent of the population is obese and more than 26 percent get no exercise, leading to growing rates of diabetes and high blood pressure. An estimated 66 million American adults are obese -- more than the entire population of the United Kingdom.

Vermont isn’t doing much better than the rest of the country in fighting obesity. About a quarter of Vermonters are obese, and the state’s rate of obesity has grown about 75 percent since 1995.

Other key challenges facing Vermont are "moderate prevalence of binge drinking," and higher rate of cancer deaths than most other states.

"We see a lot of potential for Vermont to do even better than they’re doing," said Lauren Mihajlov, United Health Foundation spokeswoman. "Even though Vermont has a lot of lessons they can share with other states, they have lessons they can learn as well."

That just goes to show, even when you’re ranked the best in the nation there’s still room for improvement.