Report: Nevada improves in U.S. health rankings | NevadaAppeal.com
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Report: Nevada improves in U.S. health rankings

Nick Coltrain
ncoltrain@nevadaappeal.com

If Nevada were a person, it would be something like this: Thinner than most, but gaining weight and healthy enough to avoid preventable hospitalizations.

But it would also be less-educated that the others, less likely to have received childhood immunizations and more likely to fall victim to a violent crime. It would also spend less on health care than almost all others.

On the whole, Nevada would be among the unhealthiest 20 percent of the personified states – but there a silver lining: It’s getting healthier, said Dr. Steven Evans, chief medical officer and chief pharmacy officer for UnitedHealthcare of Nevada.

Nevada ranks 42nd in the nation in overall health, up from No. 47 last year, according to the America’s Health Rankings report from the United Health Foundation. The foundation also found that the United States’ overall health did not improve between 2010 and 2011, marking a drop from the half-percent annual increase seen between 2000 and 2010.

“It was not surprising that (health care in) Nevada improved, but I was surprised that the entire country did not,” Evans said, citing the spike in the national conversation on health.

He said Nevada’s No. 4 ranking on lowest obesity rate is something to boast about to other states, but still not good on the whole. He called it an “epidemic” in the state that is getting worse, despite the high ranking. Nevada’s comparatively low rate figured heavily in its improvement in overall health, Evans said.

“We are getting more obese, just not as quickly as the rest of the country, and that’s a huge determinant in the rankings,” Evans said.

Obesity leads to a slew of other problems, Evans said, and ultimately contributes negatively to the preventable-hospitalizations category. Nevada is No. 15 there, putting it under the “strength” category of the report.

Tobacco use is similar to obesity in being a double-whammy on preventative hospitalization and being its own negative category, Evans said. Nevada is No. 42 there.

The state also falls almost to the bottom on public health funding. It is at No. 49, with $41 being spent per person, compared with $244 per person for the top-ranked state, Hawaii. Evans said that category doesn’t carry as much weight, however, because how people take care of themselves is more important than how much they spend on health care.

He said education is ultimately a root problem also in states with low rankings – and Nevada rates the lowest there – because of strong ties between education and self care, poverty and violent crime.

Key factors in Nevada’s health ranking

Strengths:

• Obesity rate No. 4, with 23.1 percent of adult population

• Incidents of infectious diseases No. 4, with 4.8 cases per 100,000 people

• Preventable hospitalization No. 15, with 58.6 cases per 1,000 Medicare enrollees

Weaknesses:

• High school graduation rate No. 50, with 56.3 percent of incoming freshmen graduating within four years

• Violent crime No. 50, with 661 offenses per 100,000 people

• Immunization coverage No. 49, with 84.6 percent of children ages 19 to 35 months old