HONOLULU — Hawaii has returned to the top of an annual, national state-by-state health ranking.
Having made strides in reducing smoking rates, obesity rates and other measures of health, Hawaii is ranked as the healthiest state in United Health Foundation’s 2013 America’s Health Rankings, released Wednesday.
The Aloha State’s ranking over the years has varied from first to sixth. The last time Hawaii was No. 1 was in 2008, said Dr. Ronald Y. Fujimoto, chief medical officer for United HealthCare’s Community Plan for Hawaii. Hawaii ranked second last year, with Vermont taking the top spot. This year, Mississippi is ranked as the least healthy state.
“We are definitely leading the nation as being the healthiest state,” Fujimoto said, explaining that to score in the top five, a state has to do well in most of the 27 measures of health. The report uses data from sources such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Education and the Census Bureau. It’s reviewed by a committee whose members come from academic institutions, government agencies and the private sector. The foundation behind the report is a private, nonprofit that funds efforts for health care improvements.
Hawaii stands out for leading the nation in public health funding at $225 per person and for an 80.2 percent immunization rate for children, according to the report.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he’s proud that the state’s public health efforts have helped Hawaii reach the top of the rankings.
The report notes that 14.6 percent of adults in Hawaii smoke, an improvement in the past year from 16.8 percent. Nationally, 19.6 percent of adults smoke. Hawaii has one of the lowest obesity rates at 23.6 percent, compared with 27.6 percent nationally.
Despite Hawaii’s top ranking, there’s room for improvement, Fujimoto said.
Hawaii faces unhealthy challenges, including high rates of binge drinking and salmonella infections. According to the report, one in 13 people in Hawaii have diabetes, compared with one in 10 nationally.
“For salmonella, it’s probably because we really enjoy the outdoors. There are a lot of picnics,” Fujimoto said. That can lead to food being stored at the wrong temperatures, he said.
State Health Director Loretta Fuddy agreed that Hawaii shouldn’t be complacent. “While Hawaii scored well along most of the report’s measures — particularly for having low rates of uninsured individuals, obesity, smoking and preventable hospitalizations, as well as high rates of childhood immunizations — some ethnic groups experience significantly worse health than the average,” she said. “We need to pay attention to the areas and populations that aren’t enjoying good health status.”