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Rankings name Connecticut sixth healthiest state

Published 9:01 pm, Wednesday, December 12, 2012
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Good news: Connecticut is one of the 10 healthiest states in the country.

Bad news: It's not quite as healthy as it used to be and is afflicted by many of the same wellness woes plaguing the rest of the country.

The non-profit, private United Health Foundation recently released America's Health Rankings, an annual report that ranks states from healthiest to least healthy, based on 24 different factors. Connecticut was ranked the sixth healthiest state in the nation -- down from fourth last year. Vermont was the healthiest state for the sixth year in a row.

Mississippi and Louisiana tied for least healthy.

States are ranked on such criteria as the prevalence of smoking, binge drinking and obesity.

Connecticut excelled in many areas. For instance, the state has a low prevalence of smoking, a low incidence of infectious disease and high immunization coverage. Connecticut Department of Public Health spokesman William Gerrish said the state's ranking in the top 10 "shows that the efforts of public-health agencies, health-care professionals, policy-makers and others who are committed to a healthy Connecticut are working."

But the picture in our state is not all rosy, said Dr. Rhonda Randall, medical director of the United Health Foundation.

"What we see in Connecticut, as well as the country, is that there are some strengths and some challenges," Randall said.

The state's biggest challenges included its high school graduation rate. This year's report indicated that 75.4 percent of incoming ninth graders in the state will graduate within the next four years. Last year's report showed that 82.2 percent of freshmen would go on to graduate.

The report also showed that the percentage of children in poverty in the state increased from 8.9 percent to 14.3 percent over the past 10 years.

Data for the report come from a variety of sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Locally, at least one expert saw a link between the state's drop in health status and its rise in poverty.

"I think it's good news that Connecticut is in the top 10," said Barbara Edinberg, director of research emeritus for the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition. "It's a concern that it has dropped and I think poverty certainly plays a role in that."

The coalition released its own report last month, the State of the Child, that showed child poverty was on the rise in Bridgeport.

The report showed children living below the poverty line had spiked from 31 percent in 2010 to 40 percent in 2011. The federal poverty line changes depending on family size, but is typically defined as about $19,000 for a family of three.

Nationwide, there was also a good news/bad news scenario.

On the positive end, deaths from cancer and heart disease have declined since 1990 by 7.6 percent and 34.6 percent, respectively. Premature deaths have also dropped over that same time period, by 18 percent.

However, the report also shows that an alarming number of Americans engage in unhealthy activities.

More than a quarter of Americans (26 percent) get no exercise, the rankings indicated. Connecticut's numbers on that score were roughly the same, with 25.5 percent of state's residents living a fitness-free existence.

And, of course, obesity continues to be a problem nationwide, with more than 27.8 percent of the country's population fitting the standards for obesity.

Randall said, even though fewer people are getting deadly diseases, our behaviors can adversely affect our quality of life.

"We're living longer, but that shouldn't mean that we have to live sicker," Randall said

acuda@ctpost.com; 203-330-6290; twitter.com/AmandaCuda; http://blog.ctnews.com/whatthehealth/