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United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings®Finds Alaska Ranks 28th Compared With Overall Health of Other States


·         Alaska ranks 28th  in overall health in 2012, up from 29th  from last year’s adjusted rankings

·         Vermont is the healthiest state for the 6th year in a row; Mississippi and Louisiana tie 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

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Dec. 11, 2012) – Americans are living longer due to several medical advances, but unhealthy behavior and preventable illness threaten quality of life, according to United Health Foundation’s 2012 America’s Health Rankings®.

While premature, cardiovascular and cancer deaths have declined since 1990 by 18.0 percent, 34.6 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively, Americans are experiencing troubling levels of obesity (27.8 percent of the adult population), diabetes (9.5 percent of the adult population), high blood pressure (30.8 percent of the adult population) and sedentary behavior (26.2 percent of the adult population).

UnitedHealthcare watches America’s Health Rankings closely to better understand the health of individuals and communities nationwide and in Alaska and has several programs in place designed to address these needs. Programs educate U.S. and Alaska citizens on how to live healthy lives and empower individuals to advocate for public health improvement.

“America’s Health Rankings from United Health Foundation is an incredibly valuable tool for us to clearly understand health trends facing us as a nation and here in Alaska,” said Dr. Robert Muller, medical director for UnitedHealthcare Northwest. “By identifying the key opportunities we face as a state we can pursue innovative solutions to those opportunities.”

Alaska’s Bill of Health

According to the 23rd Edition of America’s Health Rankings, Alaska is 28th this year compared to 29th in 2011 when compared with the health of other states. This year’s report finds that, similar to every other state, Alaska has its share of strengths and challenges.

Alaska’s Strengths

·         Low prevalence of low birthweight: Alaska had the lowest rate of low birthweight in the U.S., with 5.7 percent of live births considered low weight.

·         Low prevalence of sedentary lifestyle: Compared to the rest of the U.S. Alaskans are more active, but 22 percent of the population leads a sedentary lifestyle.

·         Low levels of air pollution: Alaska has some of the lowest levels of air pollution in the U.S., with 6.0 micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter.

Alaska’s Challenges

·         High prevalence of binge drinking: Alaskans report a higher rate of binge drinking compared to the rest of the country, at 20.8 percent of the adult population.

·         High violent crime rate: There were 639 violent crime offenses per 100,000 population, putting Alaska in the 49th spot nationwide.

·         High number of occupational fatalities: While the number of occupational fatalities declined from 12.5 to 8.1 deaths per 100,000 population in the past five years, Alaska ranks 47th in the U.S.


UnitedHealthcare Programs Address Alaska Health Needs

UnitedHealthcare has several programs in place that seek to address the health concerns underscored in this year’s America’s Health Rankings. For example, UnitedHealthcare’s offers wellness benefits to both large and small employers in Alaska. The programs encourage healthy behaviors and target specific health actions using customized information, financial incentives and ongoing support.

Additionally, United Health Foundation is continuing to enhance its website, americashealthrankings.org, with a variety of tools to help individuals make healthy choices, including customizable reports, enhanced social media and other innovative online resources.

Public Health Workers Sharon Whytal and Paula Ciniero advocate for healthy living in Alaska

In his opening commentary to this year’s America’s Health Rankings, Reed Tuckson, M.D., medical advisor, United Health Foundation, and executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, UnitedHealth Group, pays tribute to the 450,000 public health workers nationwide who are working on the front lines to promote health and prevent disease. 

UnitedHealthcare echoes this gratitude and thanks the many public health workers in Alaska. In particular, UnitedHealthcare acknowledges the efforts of Sharon Whytal and Paula Ciniero.

Ms. Whytal has been a public health nurse for over 18 years and was instrumental in implementing MAPP of the Southern Kenai Peninsula and was the coordinator for the local effort. Utilizing the MAPP framework, Sharon was successful in bringing together over 50 partner agencies to conduct a full health needs assessment, develop a community health improvement plan and implement such plan.  She created an environment that allowed for an empowered community to address health from a broad perspective. 

Ms. Cinier has been a PHN in Alaska for over 10 years. She itinerates to villages throughout the Interior Region providing care including community education on genealogy and nutrition, health impact of immunizations, and historical and current day impact of interpersonal and domestic violence for both the individual and the community. She is part of a team that has traveled throughout Alaska, in small rural villages such as Beaver and larger communities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks, to share their knowledge and expertise.

All 50 States: Vermont Still the Healthiest; Mississippi and Louisiana tie for last.

For the sixth year in a row, Vermont is the nation’s healthiest state. Hawaii is ranked second, followed by New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Minnesota. The five least healthy states are South Carolina (46), West Virginia (47), Arkansas (48), and Mississippi and Louisiana, which tied for the 49th slot. States that showed the most substantial improvement in rankings include: New Jersey (nine slots), Maryland (five slots), and Alabama, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Rhode Island (three slots).

Nationwide: Improved survival rates offset by escalating rates of chronic illness.

This year’s Rankings show that national death rates have improved in several key areas, including:  

·      Premature Death declined 18.0 percent  in the last 23 years, from 8,716 years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 people in 1990, to 7,151 years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 people in 2012. Premature deaths, like several other metrics, have leveled off in the last decade compared to gains in the 1990s.

·      Cardiovascular Death declined 34.6 percent since 1990, from 405.1 deaths in 1990 to 264.9 deaths per 100,000 people in the 2012 Edition. This continues a relatively constant improvement of 2 percent to 3 percent each year.

·      Cancer Death declined 7.6 percent from 197.5 deaths in 1990 to 182.5 deaths per 100,000 people in the 2012 Edition. This continues to show a more rapid improvement in the last few years than earlier in the century.

However, while the Rankings show notable improvements in survival rates, the quality of these lives are threatened by epidemic rates of preventable chronic illness, including:  

·      Sedentary behavior, which is defined as not doing any physical activity outside of work for the last 30 days, is at dangerous levels, affecting 26.2 percent of Americans. Rates of sedentary behavior are as high as 35.0 percent of the adult population in Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia.

·      Obesity is at epidemic proportion. The national median of obese adults is 27.8 percent or 66 million adults – more than the entire population of the United Kingdom. Even the thinnest state, Colorado, has one-fifth of its population obese.

·         Diabetes is also at epidemic proportion. The national median for adults with diabetes is 9.5 percent. This does not include cases of undiagnosed diabetes, which would increase this rate significantly.

To see the Rankings in full, please visit: www.americashealthrankings.org.

About United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings®

America’s Health Rankings® is an annual comprehensive assessment of the nation’s health on a state-by state basis. It is published jointly by United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.

The data in the report come from well-recognized outside sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, FBI, Dartmouth Atlas Project, U.S. Department of Education and Census Bureau. The report is reviewed and overseen by a Scientific Advisory Committee, with members from leading academic institutions, government agencies and the private sector. A key America’s Health Rankings data source – a telephone survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that accounts for seven of the 24 measures in the index – was changed this year to include cell phone-only households as well as a household-weighting process that better reflects increasing diversity within states. As a result of the new techniques, the rates for following seven measures cannot be compared to previous years: smoking, obesity, binge drinking, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, poor physical health days and poor mental health days.

America’s Health Rankings is the longest running report of its kind. For 23years, the Rankings has provided an analysis of national health on a state-by-state basis by evaluating a historical and comprehensive set of health, environmental and socioeconomic data to determine national health benchmarks and state rankings. The Rankings employs a unique methodology, developed and annually reviewed by a Scientific Advisory Committee of leading public health scholars. For more information, please visit www.americashealthrankings.org.

About the United Health Foundation

Guided by a passion to help people live healthier lives, United Health Foundation provides helpful information to support decisions that lead to better health outcomes and healthier communities. The Foundation also supports activities that expand access to quality health care services for those in challenging circumstances and partners with others to improve the well-being of communities. After its establishment by UnitedHealth Group [NYSE: UNH] in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation, the Foundation has committed more than $200 million to improve health and health care. For additional information, please visit www.unitedhealthfoundation.org.

About UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 650,000 physicians and care professionals and 5,000 hospitals nationwide. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 38 million people and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company.

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