Unhealthy habits drive up costs, drive down quality of life

Released Dec. 11, United Health Foundation's 2012 America’s Health Rankings revealed that while Americans are living longer, unhealthy behaviors and preventable illnesses threaten quality of life and add to healthcare costs.

“When we look at this year’s report, we see that we are living longer, but with an increasing burden of preventable chronic illness,” wrote the authors of the health rankings report. “In particular, our nation’s health is persistently compromised by risk factors such as sedentary behavior, obesity and diabetes.”

“Our nation’s private corporations and small businesses; federal, state and local governments; and individuals and families are all increasingly burdened by the economic costs and productivity consequences of preventable illness,” the authors added.

In its 23rd year, America’s Health Rankings is an annual state-by-state assessment of the country’s health. Data used in the report comes from such entities as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Dartmouth Atlas Project, the U.S. Department of Education and the Census Bureau.

Among the report’s findings:

• The five healthiest states are Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Minnesota.

• The five least healthy states are South Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

• States that showed the most improvement in the rankings include New Jersey, Maryland, Alabama, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

• Sedentary behavior affects 26.2 percent of Americans nationwide.

• Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are at serious levels across the country, with obesity at a national median of 27.8 percent for adults; diabetes at 9.5 percent (adults); and high blood pressure at 30.8 percent (adults).

“High prevalence of sedentary behavior, obesity, diabetes and hypertension means that a freight train of preventable chronic illnesses is going to crash into our healthcare system unless we take action now,” said Reed Tuckson, MD, in a press release about the rankings. Tuckson is a medical adviser for the United Health Foundation and is executive vice president and chief of medical affairs at UnitedHealth Group.

“This trend is already affecting individuals’ lives and the system as a whole, but it will be devastating if left unchecked,” he continued in the release. “We – as citizens, public health advocates, employers, employees and family members – need to address unhealthy behaviors today if we want to save our children from a lifetime of needless pain and expense. As important as access to quality medical care is to our health, the way too many people are living today is actually the biggest risk to their health."