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Georgia slips to 41st in ranking of states by health

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Hawaii is America's healthiest state, Californians keep their smoking to a minimum and Kansas saw the largest increase in obesity in the 2016 America's Health Rankings Report from The United Health Foundation.
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Hawaii is America's healthiest state, Californians keep their smoking to a minimum and Kansas saw the largest increase in obesity in the 2016 America's Health Rankings Report from The United Health Foundation.

Georgia fell one notch to 41 among all 50 states in the annual “America’s Health Ranking” for 2016 released Thursday by the United Health Foundation, a nonprofit arm of insurer United Health Group.

For the fifth straight year, Hawaii was ranked the nation’s healthiest state. Massachusetts finished second followed by Connecticut, Minnesota and Vermont.

Mississippi was the most unhealthy state in 2016 followed by Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma. In the 27 years that the annual report on resident health status has been released, Mississippi has finished last or next to last 25 times. In 1998 and 1991, Mississippi ranked 48th.

The state rankings are based on 34 measures involving four health determinants: behaviors, community and environment, policy and clinical care. The scoring methodology was developed and reviewed by public health experts.

Georgia’s low ranking – in the bottom 20 percent of all states – in part reflects its rising child poverty rate which has climbed 75 percent in the last 15 years from 16.4 percent to nearly 29 percent in 2016, the study found.

In addition, nearly 15 percent of Georgia residents lack health insurance. Only three other states – Texas, Alaska and Florida - have higher rates of uninsured.

In addition, nearly 15 percent of Georgia residents lack health insurance. Only three other states – Texas, Alaska and Florida – have higher rates of uninsured.

The Affordable Care Act gives states the option of extending Medicaid coverage to working-age adults who earn at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Under the law, the federal government paid the entire cost over covering newly eligible Medicaid recipients in 2014, 2015 and 2016. But Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and the Republican-led state legislature have opposed expanding Medicaid, saying it is too costly even though states would pay no more than 10 percent of medical costs for newly eligible enrollees after 2016.

President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal and replace ACA.

In addition, Georgia had the fourth-highest rate of low birth-weight babies – 9.5 percent of live births. Only Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama had higher rates. Low birth-weight is one of the five leading causes of infant mortality in the U.S. and only seven states have a higher infant mortality rate than Georgia’s 7.2 percent, the study found. From 2015 to 2016, Georgia’s infant mortality rate increased 9 percent from 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Bright spots include Georgia’s top-ten ranking in terms of fewest drug deaths, 11.2 per 100,000. Georgia also had the nation’s 11th highest child immunization rate for children aged 19 to 35 months – 75.6 percent, the report found.

Nationally, the study notes long term health improvements like a 41 percent decline in adult smoking rates since 1990, and a 35-percent decline in the rate of Americans without health coverage over the last five years.

But the report also notes, for the first time ever, that the nation’s cardiovascular death rate increased from the previous year from about 251 deaths per 100,000 to nearly 252.

The national death rate from drugs also increased 9 percent over the last five years and by 4 percent from 2015 to 2016. Increasing drug deaths have helped fuel a rise in the nation’s premature death rate for the last two years.

“We have made important strides across the country against public health challenges; however, we are at a crossroads between a healthier future as a nation and a future in which troubling public health measurements become increasingly common,” said a statement from Reed Tuckson, external senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation. “Of particular concern is the first-time rise in cardiovascular deaths, despite all the medical advances in this area. This data provides a roadmap for states, local communities and the public health sector to work together to get ahead of the challenges coming.”

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