Short Takes On News & Events

Obesity Rate Flat For First Time In Decades, Health Rankings Find

By Eric Whitney

December 11th, 2013, 3:49 PM

An annual state-by-state survey says the country is making good progress in improving its overall health — including a flat obesity rate and a lower rate of smoking. But individual states, especially in the South, continue to lag.

The 2013 edition of “America’s Health Rankings”  by United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention says that, “for the first time in decades,” the nation’s obesity rate did not rise between 2012 and 2013. Americans are also becoming more physically active, the report says.

“We should certainly celebrate these gains,” said Dr. Reed Tuckson, external senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation. “I am hopeful that the leveling off we see in America’s obesity is a sign of further improvement to come.”

The report ranks Hawaii as the healthiest state, bumping Vermont, which held that spot in 2012, down to second place.  Minnesota rounds out the top three. Nine of the states ranking in the top ten were in the Northeast or West.

Mississippi is lowest ranked, as it was in 2012. Contributing to its low rating were the high prevalence of obesity, physical inactivity and diabetes.  Of the ten lowest-ranked states, only Indiana is not in the South. Numbers 47 through 49 are Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas, respectively.

Hawaii scored well for high childhood immunization rates, and low rates of people without health insurance, smoking and preventable hospitalizations. It lost points for high prevalence of binge drinking and low high school graduation rates.

Mississippi, which has ranked in the bottom three states since the report was first issued in 1990, is in the bottom five states in 15 of the report’s 27 measures, but ranks well for childhood immunization and a small disparity in health status between social groups.

America’s Health Rankings uses mostly federal data from sources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The study looks at 19 different determinants of health — factors including air pollution, public health spending and crime rates — and eight outcomes, including diabetes rates, infant mortality and cancer deaths.

Each metric is given a weighted portion of a top possible score, and then states are compared to the national mean score. A score of zero means a state is even with the mean. Scores ranged from .92 above the mean for Hawaii, to .89 below it for Mississippi. States scoring closest to the mean were Arizona, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Among the states with the biggest decline in rank from 2012 to 2013, is Wisconsin, which fell from 13th to 20th. Wisconsin saw an increase in both obesity and violent crime, coupled with a decline in adolescent immunizations.

Wyoming saw the greatest year-on-year improvement in rank, from 25th to 17th.  The report says greater levels of physical activity and childhood immunization, plus a decline in low birth weight babies helped boost the Cowboy state’s numbers.

Despite what the report identifies as positive new metrics and potential trends nationwide, Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president of the nonprofit Institute of Medicine, concludes in a commentary accompanying the report that, “America’s health system is neither successful nor sustainable. If we as a nation are going to achieve our potential for health we will have to face up to three great tasks: “provide care at lower cost, foster a culture of health and invest in research in prevention and treatment.”

9 Responses to “Obesity Rate Flat For First Time In Decades, Health Rankings Find”

  1. sam says:

    “Mississippi is lowest ranked, as it was in 2012. Contributing to its low rating were the high prevalence of obesity, physical inactivity and diabetes. Of the ten lowest-ranked states, only Indiana is not in the South. Numbers 47 through 49 are Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas, respectively.”

    Gee, how come I’m not surprised? Yet, most red state members of Congress are against healthcare reform. Like they don’t see global warming as a problem, they don’t see obesity as a problem either. Seems like the last thing red state politicians want to do is to try to get their constituents healthy. Why do they keep electing the same morons?

  2. Red states fight health care reform, lead the way in uninsured, obesity, smoking, consumption of soft drinks, stroke and heart attacks. Freedom of choice?

  3. Katie E. says:

    Respectfully, yes, this is absolutely a function of freedom of choice. We should have the freedom to eat whatever we want and however much of it we want, and to exercise as little or as much as we desire. We get to make those choices because we’re free Americans. And if obesity, diabetes, and heart disese result, it’s OUR responsibility to find a way to pay for the healthcare that may (or may not) be able to correct our wrongs. Healthcare reform is in no way going to keep anyone from smoking, from drinking 24 oz sodas, or from ordering Whoppers: it’s not the responsilbity of the government to even try. And so I don’t want the government throwing these bad decision-makers into my insurance pool with individuals who HAVE decided to take care of their bodies. If you’re going to pollute your body, you can pay a higher deductible (or forgo buying insurance altogether and see what happens). The rest of us shouldn’t have to suffer higher deductibles because now EVERYONE is in the insurance pool, regardless of how well they care for themselves. The “red state” individuals who oppose healthcare reform are simply supporting our right to make our own choices, and then deal with the consequences of our own actions.

  4. BA Smith says:

    It would be nice if freedom of choice would not end up affecting everyone. By this I mean in terms of raising the cost of healthcare. When people are not insured they use emergency rooms as their primary source of care. Because we have laws which state that care must be given to those who cannot pay it inevitably causes the loss of dollars and raising the cost of healthcare which is already skyrocketing. So if you think that you are not already “suffering higher deductibles because now EVERYONE is in the insurance pool” you are sadly mistaken. Being able to receive reimbursement from some source is better than nothing at all. We all suffer by having those who are un-insured or under insured in the end. So why not find some humane way to make sure that all can receive healthcare?

  5. Quinn says:

    Dear BA,

    Well said. Some Republicans seem to think that they can segregate themselves from the uninsured in society. Some Republicans seem to think that uninsured people getting uncompensated care in the hospital emergency room has absolutely no effect on them and their health insurance premiums. Some Republicans seem to believe that what they don’t know does not hurt them. Some Republicans seem to think that if they don’t see uninsured people receiving uncompensated healthcare, it can’t possibly have any affect on them. When Republicans see poor people using food stamps at the food market, it makes them angry and they tell their members of Congress to defund the food stamp program. Maybe if Republicans visited the hospital more and saw the uncompensated care that the uninsured are receiving in the emergency room, maybe they would get angry and tell their members of Congress to defund uncompensated healthcare. That way, hospitals would have no other choice but to close their emergency rooms. No more emergency rooms! Sounds to me like the perfect Republican healthcare plan!

  6. Katie says:

    :) Some republicans work in healthcare, and are well aware that uninsured patients receiving uncompensated care does ultimately have an effect on everyone. That doesn’t mean the government needs to mandate health insurance. “When republicans see poor people using food stamps at the food market, it makes them angry and they tell their members of Congress to defund the food stamp program.” What republicans are you hanging out with? I’ll be sure to share this with my republican colleagues at the hospital on Monday and we’ll all have a good laugh :) .

  7. Quinn says:


    So, you consider yourself a smart Republican, huh? They are very few in number, aren’t they? Okay, if you are such a genius concerning uncompensated care solutions, then maybe you could share with all of us here how you would encourage healthcare freeloaders to stop going to the emergency room for their routine healthcare. Better yet, while you are all having a huge belly laugh, why don’t you ask your “republican colleagues” their solution about how to give hospitals the relief they need to the ever growing number of uninsured people who abuse the emergency room charity? While you and your “republican colleagues” are having that huge laugh, maybe you will all take some time to consider that maybe your days are numbered as hospital employees since more and more hospitals are deciding to get rid of excess employees as they gradually get out of the charity healthcare business. That’s really funny, huh?

  8. Ronald says:


    You’ll be waiting for a while to get any answers to your questions. Republicans have no answers regarding healthcare reform because they abandoned the only idea they has once Mitt Romney and Barack Obama started liking it.

  9. Ronald says:

    The only idea they has?

    More like, “the only idea they had”…