America's unhealthiest states: 4 talking points

The South fares the worst. New England gets the cleanest bill of health. And California isn't as fit as you might think

Air pollution near Manhattan Beach, Calif.
(Image credit: Jon Hicks/Corbis)

Put down the egg nog. The United Health Foundation's 2011 America's Health Rankings are in, and much of the news is not good. The yearly report uses data from the Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Centers for Disease Control to rank the country's healthiest states based on 23 factors, including obesity, smoking, and binge drinking. Here, four takeaways from this year's report:

1. The Northeast is America's healthiest region

"New England leads the pack" when it comes to health, with its states taking six of the top 10 spots, says Susan Brady at Health News. Vermont is the country's healthiest state for the fifth year running. New Hampshire is second, and Connecticut third, followed by Massachusetts (#5), Maine (#8), and Rhode Island (#10). According to the report, the reasons for Vermont's success include a strong high-school graduation rate, a low rate of infectious disease, an absence of violent crime, and an impressive offering of early prenatal care.

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2. The West Coast isn't that healthy

"Surprisingly," notes Brady, not one West Coast state cracks the top 10. Yes, "California, despite its reputation for granola, sprouts and avocados, ranks near the middle," at #24, says Melissa Wiese at Sacramento Business Journal. High levels of pollution, a swelling number of uninsured residents, and low rates of immunization dragged the Golden State's ranking down.

3. Mississippi comes in last

The Magnolia State is the least healthy state in the union, thanks to high rates of obesity and infant mortality, and a troublingly high percentage of kids living in poverty. Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana round out the bottom five. Simply put, "the South doesn't do well," says Carole Ditosti at Technorati. "Maybe those lard fried turkeys, hush puppies, fried oysters, fried chicken, ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, and gumbo and rice have got to go!"

4. We're not getting any healthier

Over the last year, the nation's overall health failed to improve. That's a disturbing change from the past two decades, when an average annual improvement of 1.6 percent was typical. "Modest overall decreases in smoking and preventable hospitalizations" were offset by "major increases in obesity and diabetes," notes Reuters. According to the report, for every American who stopped smoking in 2011, another became obese.

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