Preventable Chronic Disease on the Rise, Report Finds

Although health in the United States improved this year in terms of smoking cessation, preventable hospitalizations, and cardiovascular deaths, the gains were offset by an increase in the prevalence of diabetes, obesity, and child poverty, a new report from the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association, and the Partnership for Prevention finds.

Based on twenty-three measures, the report, 2011 America's Health Rankings (124 pages, PDF), found that the country's overall health stagnated in 2011 after three consecutive years of progress. While smoking prevalence declined 3.4 percent, to 17.3 percent of the adult population, the prevalence of obesity and diabetes continued to rise, increasing 2.2 percent and 4.8, respectively. Indeed, according to a 2010 report from the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform and Modernization, diabetes and pre-diabetes may account for as much as 10 percent of total healthcare costs by 2020 — some $500 billion, up from $208 billion this year — if current trends continue.

The report also includes a ranking of the healthiest states in the nation. For the fifth consecutive year, Vermont topped the list, followed by New Hampshire, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Massachusetts. States showing substantial improvement include New York and New Jersey, largely because of improvements made in smoking cessation. Idaho and Alaska registered the biggest downward movement, dropping ten and five spots, respectively.

"While this year's rankings show some important improvements, we also see some very alarming trends — particularly diabetes and obesity — that, left unchecked, will put further strain on our country's already strained health care resources," said Dr. Reed Tuckson, United Health Foundation board member and executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, UnitedHealth Group. "At a time when the nation, states and individual families are grappling with tightening budgets and growing health care expenses, this year's rankings send a loud wakeup call that the burden of preventable chronic disease will continue to get worse unless we take urgent action."