Iowa at 23-year low in health, new ranking shows

Incidence of smoking, overeating, infectious disease among weakenesses cited

Iowa is dropping to new lows when it comes to health, according to a report released Tuesday.

The 2012 America’s Health Rankings, by  the United Health Foundation, rated Iowa 20th as compared to the overall health of other states.

That four-spot drop from last year sank Iowa to its lowest in the report’s 23 years, even as it aspires to become the healthiest state.

“This survey reflects the governor’s call for Iowans to take more ownership of their own health,” Tim Albrecht, spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, wrote in an email. “The government cannot solve all our health care problems, and Iowans need to take responsibility for quitting smoking, ending over-eating, and eliminating binge drinking and other harmful habits.”

The areas Albrecht cited were some of the challenges Iowa faces, along with a limited availability of primary care physicians and high incidence of infectious disease, according to the report.

Strengths cited in the report included high rate of high school graduation; low percentage of children in poverty and few poor mental and physical health days per month.

Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative began last year, an effort to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.

Albrecht said Branstad undertook the initiative “because it was clear we need to do more for the health of our citizens, and this study backs up the governor’s position.”

The rankings differ from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, on which Iowa is basing its goal to become the healthiest state.

That report, released in February, showed Iowa’s health ranking improved from 19th in 2010 to 16th in 2011.

Still, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said America’s Health Rankings provides a useful tool for introspection.

“We recognize it’s a snapshot in time,” she said.

Miller-Meeks said the infectious disease rate, from 11.3 cases per 100,000 Iowans last year to 17 cases now, reflects an uptick in pertussis, or whooping cough.

The state has since changed its guidelines to recommend re-vaccination in middle school, she said.

Miller-Meeks said a lag between state initiatives and surveys conducted for the report do not reflect other efforts, such as campaigns against binge-drinking in Iowa college towns.

The rankings use sources that include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s data, which recently changed its methodology to include cell phone users. That led United Health to revise last year’s rankings to reflect the study method, changing Iowa’s 2011 ranking from 17th to 16th.

According to the report, Vermont is the healthiest state for sixth consecutive year. Hawaii ranked second, followed by New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Minnesota. The five least healthy states are South Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi and Louisiana, which tied for last.

Nationwide, nearly 28 percent of the population is obese and more than 26 percent get no exercise, resulting in increasing prevalence of diabetes and high blood pressure.

The report noted that while premature, cardiovascular and cancer deaths have declined since 1990 by 18 percent, 34.6 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively, Americans are experiencing troubling levels of obesity (27.8 percent of adults,) diabetes (9.5 percent,) high blood pressure (30.8 percent) and sedentary behavior (26.2 percent.)

Other highlights of the report include:

  • There are almost 680,000 obese adults in Iowa, and more than 600,000 adults lead a sedentary lifestyle in the state.
  • In the past 10 years, the rate of uninsured population increased from 7.9 percent to 11.1 percent.
  • In the past 10 years, the rate of preventable hospitalizations decreased from 70.8 to 60.4 discharges per 1,000 Medicare enrollees.
  • Iowa ranks lower for determinants than for outcomes, indicating that overall healthiness may decline over time.
  • Smoking is more prevalent among non-Hispanic blacks at 27.1 percent than non-Hispanic whites at 16.4 percent and Hispanics at 15.4 percent. Sedentary lifestyle is more prevalent among Hispanics at 34.3 percent than non-Hispanic whites at 23.8 percent.

FYI:  The United Health Foundation collaborated with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention on the rankings. All of the measures, along with suggested actions, can be found in the full report at

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