msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/5/2006 6:48:47 PM ET 2006-12-05T23:48:47

An annual report released Tuesday put Minnesota at the top of its health rankings for the fourth straight year, while concluding that the nation’s health improved slightly.

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The report by United Health Foundation, an independent, not-for-profit foundation funded by the health care company UnitedHealth Group, said Americans are 0.3 percent healthier than they were a year ago.

The report is based on factors such as personal behaviors, the environment people live and work in, decisions by public and elected officials, and the quality of medical care delivered by health professionals.

Examples include smoking, motor vehicle deaths, high school graduation rates, children in poverty, access to care and incidence of preventable disease.

Dr. Reed Tuckson, senior vice president of the United Health Foundation, called the report a “call to action for all of us” to make the nation healthier.

“We can do better and our children deserve better,” he said.

Minnesota, which has held the top spot in 11 of the 17 years of the survey, was cited for, among other things, its low rate of uninsured (8.4 percent), low percentage of children in poverty (10 percent), and low infant mortality rate (5.1 deaths per 1,000 live births).

Vermont was second on the list, followed by New Hampshire, Hawaii and Connecticut. At the other end, the report listed Louisiana as the least-healthy state, followed by Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.

The report also points out states that have made the most progress in overall health since last year, as well as those that have regressed the most.

Illinois saw the biggest gain in the past year, jumping three to a ranking of 25. The report credited the state for decreasing child poverty by 13 percent and the prevalence of smoking by 10 percent.

Other states saw health gains. Ohio was cited for cutting smoking statewide by 14 percent and increasing immunization coverage by six percent.

Wisconsin rose three places to a ranking of 10, largely due to lowering the number of children in poverty by 24 percent, its high rate of high school graduation and low violent crime rate. Kansas was also noteworthy for a low rate of uninsured, smoking and incidence of infectious disease, the report said.

New Mexico saw the biggest drop, falling two to 40. In the past year, high school graduation rates fell six percent and the state was criticized limited access to prenatal care and a high rate of uninsured. Idaho fell three places to 19 due to a significant rise in obesity rates. Job-related deaths in Idado increased by 62 percent. West Virginia dropped two places to 43 due to a 14 percent decline in immunizations and a 19 percent rise of child poverty.

Nationally, the level of growth in health as measured by the report has been nearly flat since 2000, averaging only 0.3 percent a year, compared to an average increase of 1.5 percent a year from 1990 to 2000.

The United Health Foundation said factors contributing to the slowed growth include tobacco use, infant mortality, and increasing obesity. The report also found that the percentage of uninsured Americans has increased from 13.4 percent in 1990 to 15.9 percent today.

The report was produced in partnership with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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