How Healthy is Alaska? America's Health Rankings reports the state No. 35
OP-ED By Dr. Roger Muller, senior medical director, UnitedHealthcare of Alaska
When it comes to overall health, Alaska has some opportunities for improvement.
That’s according to the 22nd annual America’s Health Rankings from United Health Foundation. The report, the longest running of its kind in the country, placed Alaska No. 35 among all 50 states for overall heath, down five spots from last year.
Here’s a snapshot of how Alaska fared in this year’s report:
- Low levels of air pollution
- High per capita public health funding
- Low prevalence of diabetes
- High prevalence of binge drinking
- High violent crime rate
- High incidence of infectious disease
Alaska residents are getting some things right. While we should take a moment to congratulate ourselves for these successes, we can’t take continued progress for granted. Significant challenges remain.
When United Health Foundation first began ranking American’s health in 1990, smoking represented one such challenge. More than 34 percent of Alaskans smoked regularly. But education brought greater understanding of the risks associated with lighting up. We turned attitudes against it, and today, just 20.4 percent of Alaskans self-report as smokers. We demonstrated that change is indeed possible, in the process helping many people improve their health and well-being and saving millions of dollars in health care costs.
On the other hand, too many Alaska residents are overweight or obese – and the trend is getting worse. Approximately 25 percent of Alaska residents are above what is considered by health experts to be a normal weight, compared with 10 percent when the rankings began.
Looking at our neighbors in the Pacific Northwest, we see a similar picture: progress tempered by further challenge. Some nearby states include Washington (No. 15) and Oregon (No. 14).
As UnitedHealthcare’s medical director for Alaska, I have witnessed efforts statewide on behalf of the public and private sectors to reverse dangerous health trends, such as the prevalence of binge drinking and immunization coverage, and to improve our overall health outcomes, such as reducing infant mortality and cancer deaths.
In Alaska, for instance, we sponsor the UnitedHealthcare HEROES grants, which offer schools and youth-focused community organizations up to $1,000 to create programs that fight childhood obesity. This program is a step in the right direction, but as a community we must continue to do more.
Through this report and other efforts, our goal is to improve the overall health of residents in Alaska. Together, we can break down barriers to high-quality care. We can take on obesity as we took on smoking. And we can win. It will take work, certainly, and time, but our health is worth that effort.
For more information about America’s Health Rankings, please go to www.americashealthrankings.org.