State ranks 13th in national health study

By Anita Weier, The Capital Times, JAnuary 31, 2006
Wisconsin ranked 13th among the states in a national health study, down from ninth in 2004, as obesity and child poverty rose.
The study, titled America’s Health Rankings 2005, analyzed personal behaviors, community environment, health policies and health outcomes.
The healthiest states were Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Utah and Hawaii, in that order. The least-healthy was Mississippi, followed in order by Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas and South Carolina.
Wisconsin’s strengths included a high rate of high school graduation, a low rate of violent crime, a low incidence of infectious diseases and a low rate of uninsured people.

Challenges included low per capita public health spending at $79 per person, which put the state in 46th place, and a high rate of smoking at 21.9 percent of the population, which put it in 31st place.
Herb Bostrom, deputy administrator of the state’s Division of Public Health, agreed that smoking and some other behavioral issues are a problem. But the public health funding issue is another matter, he said.
The study tends to look only at state funding for public health, not at grants and fees, according to Bostrom. “Wisconsin has been very successful in acquiring federal grants and grants from non-federal sources,” he said.
Another factor is that some states provide direct health services while Wisconsin funds other providers that do so. “Different states do things differently,” he said.
The study was conducted by the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention, and was published in State Policy Reports as well as other publications and Web sites.
Another major health problem cited by the study was the fact that the percentage of children in poverty increased by 17 percent – from 15.4 percent to 18 percent of those under 18, from 2004 to 2005.
That figure would have been worse, the study said, if the rate of births per 1,000 teenage females had not decreased by 26.1 percent – from 43.7 births per thousand in 1991 to 32.3 births per thousand in 2002.
Since 1990, the prevalence of obesity soared by 105 percent – from 11.3 percent to 23.2 percent of the population.
Additionally, Wisconsin ranked 23rd for cardiovascular deaths and 23rd for total mortality.
Racial disparities also existed.
For instance, the infant mortality rate was substantially worse for minorities. Non-Hispanic whites had a rate of 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, while non-Hispanic blacks had a rate of 17.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Whites were screened for cholesterol levels at a much higher rate than Hispanics.
Bostrom added that blacks and American Indians have high rates of diabetes.
“Disparity is a big problem. The Division of Public Health is focusing on the disparity in health outcomes and working with minority populations in the Milwaukee area, Rock County and Dane County,” he said.
But he pointed out that such differences are often due more to income than any sort of genetic tendency. “In many cases, there are socio-economic and education differences. These are societal issues,” he said.
“If we could raise our health status for minorities to the level of the majority, that could make a substantial improvement.”