Feeling ill: WA health ranking drops

Washington dropped from 11th to 15th in state health ranking and experienced the nation’s second largest drop in overall health score according to America’s Health: 2004 recently released by United Health Foundation.

Washington state’s decline was driven by poor scores relating to the number of women receiving pre-natal care, the number of children living in poverty, high school graduation rates, public health infrastructure investments, the number of uninsured and the percentage of people reporting limitations of their activity due to poor health .

The report also highlighted the importance of eliminating health disparities in Washington so that health benefits can accrue equally across regions, races and ethnicities throughout the state.

America’s Health Reports have been published for the past fifteen years and is sanctioned by the American Public Health Association among other organizations. The report ranks states according to a variety of measures including individual health risks and the performance of health related systems. The report is found at http://www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/shr2004/states/Washington.html.

“This news is very discouraging,” said Greg Vigdor, CEO of the Washington Health Foundation. “After a decade of improvement, our state’s health is headed in the wrong direction. This is a real wake up call. The report shows us where we stand and what we need to do if we are serious about making good health a top priority,” Vigdor continued, “Some of the steps are obvious and well known. There are the things we know we should do to maintain our individual health, like stopping smoking, and paying attention to our diet and exercise. But, this report also reminds each of us that we all have to pitch in on some less obvious things that lead to healthier communities.”

Vigdor says that the report reminds Washingtonians that our collective health depends on seeing that more of our kids graduate from high school.

“Health researchers know a good education leads to a good income and that leads to good health, not just for individuals, but for communities,” Vigdor said.

Vigdor also noted that Washington is near the bottom of states in its commitment to public health. “Correcting this should be a top priority for all public officials,” said Vigdor.

Washington is 44th in the percent of health dollars spent for public health and 39th in public health dollars per capita. The state is only 35th among states in prenatal care down from 21st in 1990 — and Washington’s score is even worse among African American women.

“We rank very low in providing the services that prevent health problems, especially to those most in need,” said Vigdor.

America’s Health: 2004 shows that Washington does very well in some measures of health status. It is among the top ten states in measures of non-smoking rates, occupational fatalities, motor vehicle deaths, infant mortality and premature death. On the other hand, the state has also experienced year-to-year increases in cancer and cardiovascular deaths, total mortality and infectious disease case rates.

But some groups in Washington do not enjoy these health gains. While smoking rates are declining overall, they are actually climbing among Native Americans, Hispanics and African Americans.

Earlier this year, the Washington Health Foundation announced a newly articulated organizational vision, “Making Washington state and its communities the healthiest in the nation.” The organization’s efforts focus on issues related to both Healthy Living and Healthy Systems.

Sept. 18, 2004 was declared Washington Health Day by Governor Gary Locke and marked the launch of the Healthiest State in the Nation Campaign. The public education and engagement campaign has already garnered support from dozens of health, civic and community organizations. The campaign’s tagline, “This is how we do it!” is intended to highlight the need to lead by example. Participating people and organizations are encouraged to become involved in efforts to improve health in areas of Healthy Living, as well as Healthy Systems.