America’s Health Rankings: Senior Report — How’s Your State Rank?

We have heard in the past that where we live can influence our health and the health of our senior loved ones. It is possible to track where you lived throughout your life and how it might have impacted your overall health.

Since 1990 a report has been produced by United Health Foundation called America’s Health Rankings. They investigate the health of the nation through analysis of a variety of featured health measures including diabetes, smoking, obesity, drinking, physical inactivity and education. The data is then separated by state so that you can get a snapshot of the strengths and weaknesses of your particular state.

This report goes one step further and examines specific areas of health concern for our seniors, including food insecurity, falls, flu vaccine, poverty as well as obesity and physical inactivity.

What IS Health, Really?

The World Health Organization defines health as physical, mental and social well-being, not just the absence of disease.

It is not just about a disease process but the holistic process of living that indicates if we are considered to be healthy or not. Are we socially engaged, mentally healthy or stimulated as well as physically healthy or free from disease?

Many areas in our control and out of our control affect our health.

  • Our environment can impact our health. How clean is the air we breathe, is it free from smog or industrial contaminants? Is our living space conducive to our health, do we have adequate resources nearby, is there wholesome food available, is there transportation to get us where we need to go, is there accessible healthcare, and is there a larger community for us to be socially engaged?
  • Our genetics, which is out of our control, can impact our health and well-being. You can’t pick your parents but they can pass down genes that will predispose you to chronic health conditions.
  • What is in our control however is our own behaviors. Do we eat foods that are healthy for our bodies, do we exercise regularly, do we engage with others socially, and do we practice safe habits such as safe driving, non-smoking and moderate drinking? Is our weight in the recommended normal range? Do we see the dentist and eye doctor regularly and do we get our recommended health screenings?

Senior Report Highlights

Improvements were seen from the last report with respect to issues of concern for seniors.

According to the report,

“We saw improvements in quality of nursing home care and end-of-life care. We also saw some gains in levels of activity among seniors and some reductions in avoidable hospitalizations. This news points to the idea that seniors are not only managing their health better, but they’re also engaging more with their health and health care, including planning for the future.”

Health status in the healthiest states showed highest dental visits, volunteerism, quality nursing home beds (4-5 star rating), marginal food insecurity, high prescription drug coverage, available home health workers, low hospitalization for hip fractures, low full mouth tooth extractions, low mental health days, and many able bodied seniors.

Health measures for seniors also included rate of chronic drinking, cognition, community support, depression, diabetes, falls, geriatrician shortfall, health screenings, hospice care, hospital deaths, flu vaccine, ICU usage, multiple chronic conditions, obesity, pain management, smoking, suicide, and underweight.

As you can see, it is a very thorough list of measurements for each state.

The top 5 healthiest states for seniors were:

  1. Minnesota
  2. Hawaii
  3. New Hampshire
  4. Vermont
  5. Massachusetts

The least healthy states for seniors (bottom 5):

  1. Mississippi
  2. Louisiana
  3. Kentucky
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Arkansas

Is the state in which you senior loved ones live among these?

Health Disparities

As we might already guess, there are health disparities between and within states. The report could help public health officials target health programs and messages to those populations that have the lowest health status. Health status in this report is defined as the percentage of the population in very good or excellent health.

It was found that those with a higher level of education, college graduates specifically, had a much greater health status than those individuals who only had a high school education and even greater than those who never graduated from high school.

Not surprising, those living in urban areas had a higher health status than those living in rural areas, where access to health care professionals and facilities is often unavailable.

Men and women overall had about the same level of health status at 39.3% and 40.4% respectively.

Income Levels Greatest Factor in Disparity

The greatest disparity in health status was seen among the various income levels, again not at all surprising. When you can pay for insurance and medical care, or someone pays for it on your behalf, it will show in your health status. Those earning $75,000 or more had a 62% health status compared to those earning $25,000 or less with a 26.4% health status.

Under-served, inaccessible and under-educated population groups are lagging behind in health and wellness and need programs designed to close these gaps in all states.

You and your senior loved ones can improve personal health outcomes by changing what is in your power to control. If you need help, reach out to agencies and organizations in your area.

If your senior qualifies, there are many programs that could assist with food insecurity and income disparity to help pay electric bills or subsidize housing costs. You can also advocate in your community for programs that will help not only your senior but others as well improve their own health not to mention the state statistics for the next report to come.

If you would like to read the full report and check out the initiatives of your state, you can find it here.