Minnesota a health haven for seniors, reports says; Mississippi not so much

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 29, 2013 


At the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, a drug trial to improve the appetites of elderly patients is being conducted. Here, nurse Deanna Shelton, left, gives Allan Ford of Wynnewood, an injection of the drug Ghrelin, April 4, 2013.


— Minnesota tops the nation as the healthiest state for seniors, while Mississippi is the unhealthiest and faces an uphill battle to improve its low ranking, according to a report Wednesday by the United Health Foundation, a non-profit arm of insurer UnitedHealth Group.

The inaugural “America’s Health Rankings Senior Report: A Call to Action,” uses 34 measurements of health data to grade each state’s performance in providing a healthy environment for men and women ages 65 and over – one of the nation’s fastest-growing age groups.

As more than 70 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 continue to age, the numbers in that age group will more than double, from 43.1 million in 2012 to 92 million in 2060, according to federal projections. As their numbers increase, so, too, will their life spans, thanks to improvements in medical care.

But half the nation’s seniors have multiple chronic health conditions, largely because of poor health choices like a lack of exercise, smoking and poor diet. This larger, longer-living and sicker population is expected to increase spending in the Medicare program from $557 billion in 2013 to more than $1 trillion in 2023, according to recent projections by the Congressional Budget Office.

The new report will help states measure their progress in improving seniors’ health and better target resources on areas of need, said Dr. Rhonda Randall, a senior adviser to the health foundation.

Minnesota ranked among the top five states on a number of measures the report used to gauge personal health, including high rates of annual dentist visits, prevalence of drug coverage and supply of home health workers.

In measures of senior health outcomes, Minnesota also finished in the top five for lowest rates of hip fracture hospitalizations, premature deaths, full-mouth tooth extractions and mental health days.

Vermont ranked as the second healthiest state for 65 and older, followed by New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Iowa to round out the top five. They were followed at six through 10 by Hawaii, Connecticut, Colorado, Utah and Maryland.

Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation, ranked in the bottom five states on 14 of the 34 health measures and last among all states for low rates of annual dental visits by seniors, as well as for seniors living in poverty, battling hunger and experiencing high rates of premature death.

Mississippi also ranks last among all states for “all health determinants combined, so it will be a difficult challenge for the state to improve its rank in the near future,” the report found.

Oklahoma was the second-most unhealthy state for seniors, followed by Louisiana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Nevada and Tennessee.

Last year, Mississippi and Louisiana tied for last place in the foundation’s annual “America’s Health Rankings,” which uses a similar methodology to rank the healthiest states for all residents.

The seniors report found more than 30 percent of healthy seniors are physically inactive, while one in four is overweight. The share of sedentary seniors varied from a low rate of 20.5 percent in Colorado to a high of more than 41 percent in West Virginia. Obesity rates varied from a low of 17 percent in Hawaii to more than 29 percent in Illinois, Iowa, Alaska and Michigan.

The report estimated that 9.3 percent of seniors live in poverty. But a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found the senior poverty rate to be 15 percent when the cost of medical care is deducted from household income.

Other findings from the report:

– Nationally, nearly 14 percent of people age 60 and older have a marginal level of “food insecurity;” they sometimes go hungry for extended periods of time. State rates vary from a low of 5.5 percent in North Dakota to more than 21 percent in New Mexico and Mississippi.

– The national rate of premature deaths for seniors is 1,909 deaths per 100,000 adults. State rates vary from a low of 1,425 deaths per 100,000 in Hawaii to 2,558 per 100,000 in Mississippi.

– About 9 percent of seniors smoke. State rates vary from a low of 4.7 percent in Utah to a high of 13.5 percent in Nevada.

Email: tpugh@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @TonyPughDC

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