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States of Good Health

Most of us probably don't consult the United Health Foundation when it comes to choosing a place to live. But maybe we should.

The 19th annual "America's Health Rankings: A Call to Action for Individuals and Their Communities" released Wednesday by the UHF in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention takes a hard look at the many factors that contribute to a state's being a healthful place to live. Analyzing data that falls into four broad categories -- personal behavior, community and environment, public and health policy, and clinical care -- the report each year ranks states according to all kinds of criteria, from the percentage of residents who smoke tobacco to the percentage that are obese.

Vermont tops the list, with high marks for low prevalence of obesity and low premature-death rate. Way at the bottom, where southern states tend to fall, is Louisiana, where lots of people are obese and many children live in poverty.

Virginia comes in at #20, and Maryland's in the middle at #26. Washington, D.C., gets analyzed but not ranked. The report lays out each state's strengths and the health-related challenges it faces; so take a half hour or so to check it out. (Maryland is on page 54, Virginia on page 80 and D.C. on page 85.)

It's interesting to look at how your home state fares and to think about what you might do personally or through public channels to boost its rating for next year. It's also fascinating -- and unsettling -- to check page 13, where a chart compares the U.S. to other developed nations in terms of health care and healthy behaviors. For a country that spends $2 trillion on health care annually, we don't make a good showing, especially when it comes to the percentage of us that are obese.

The report's introduction, written by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, makes a case for concentrating on prevention rather than dumping so much money into fixing people who are already sick. That makes sense to me, but we can't exactly stop caring for the ill in the meantime.

In other health-ranking news, SELF magazine's December issue names Bethesda/Gaithersburg/Frederick as the healthiest city in America for women. That's based in part on the area's high number of ob/gyns and internists per capita and the scarcity of toxic sites. (For the record, Men's Health has ranked cities for health, too.)

Would you ever pick a new hometown based on what you know about its health-related features? What kind of action can you see yourself taking to help improve your own state's rating?

Or is this all just an intriguing parlor game?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  December 5, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health  
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Comments

You failed to note Bethesda/Gaithersburg/Frederick have higher than average suicide rates, according to that erudite magazine, Self. Frankly, I pick my hometown based on what I can afford and where I work, not based on the available medical services. It's all just a silly excuse to write magazine articles which people skim through, discard and forget.

I live within driving distance of Johns Hopkins, Anne Arundel Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Hospital, Washington Adventist, all the teaching hospitals in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. If none of them can repair my ills, I'll just give it up.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | December 5, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Good jobs equate to good health.
I'd pick where I live by where I can earn the best living.

I'd be almost guaranteed to find good health care then.

Posted by: RedBird27 | December 5, 2008 1:31 PM | Report abuse

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