The United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings report has once again ranked Vermont first in the nation when it comes to overall health.
The yearly report, touted as “the longest-running state-by-state analysis of the nation’s health,” has been around for three decades. During that period, Vermont has climbed 20 spots and has hit the No. 1 spot five times.
Policymakers and public health officials use the report to better understand the strengths and challenges in their own states and at the national level. Is findings have been included in legislative testimonies, academic journals, news articles and more.
The 2019 edition has many positive highlights for residents of the Green Mountain State.
On air quality, Vermont has 5.1 fewer micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter than the national average. With regard to safety, there are 172 fewer violent crimes per 100,000 people in the state than for the nation as a whole. There’s also 12.1 percent fewer people living in poverty compared to the national average.
The report mentions the state’s progress in reducing the rate of adult obesity and smoking, while increasing physical activity and childhood immunization. Health disparities among Vermonters were relatively low.
Gov. Phil Scott said he was pleased with Vermont’s position leading the nation.
“Vermont’s place at the top of this list reflects our commitment to health in all 251 communities and across provider networks from hospitals to home and community-based providers,” he said. “While there is always room for improvement, our position as the healthiest in the nation speaks to the high quality of life we offer in Vermont.
Despite Vermont’s high rank, some parts of the report delve into some troubling trends. Over the last three years, drug deaths have gone up by 52 percent, from 13.1 to 19.9 deaths per 100,000 residents. During that same period, violent crime increased 46 percent, or from 118 to 172 offenses per 100,000 residents.
More lowlights include diabetes is up 12 percent and the chlamydia is up 10 percent. In addition, 18.5 percent of Vermonters were labeled excessive drinkers, and about 27.5 percent are obese.
According to the study, having health insurance is a metric for health status. Vermont has among the highest percentage of residents who are paying monthly premiums to big insurance companies — just 4.3 percent are uninsured.
The study also indicates there’s a significant drop in disparities of health care by demographics for Vermont — gender, race, ethnicity, education, income, disability, location, and sexual orientation don’t seem to play a big role in who’s staying healthy.
According to the report’s analysis of the nation as a whole, Americans are seeing lowering rates of smoking, infant mortality, and children in poverty. This past year smoking is down 6 percent, there were 1,200 fewer infant mortalities, and 2 percent fewer children were living in poverty.
The national scene is not all bright, however. Premature deaths, including suicides and drug deaths, are all on the rise. Over the past three years, drug deaths are up 37 percent. Suicides are up 4 percent in the last year alone.
Nationally, health data by race varies. Asians are far less likely to be obese (11.5 percent) or smoke (7.7 percent). On the opposite end are native Americans — 39 percent are obese and 29 percent are smokers. About 29 percent of whites are obese, and 16 percent smoke. More than 39 percent of blacks are obese; 17 percent smoke.
Two of Vermont’s neighbors ranked well in the study. Massachusetts is the second healthiest state in the nation, and Connecticut ranks fourth.
At the bottom of the list are Oklahoma (46), Alabama (47), Arkansas (48), Louisiana (49), and Mississippi (50).