Thursday, October 08, 2009

The United States Of Health

Comparing various measures of health across the American states can be informative. It can also be tricky, because such comparisons don't tell us why people in Vermont are so much healthier than those in Mississippi, say; just that they are.

Still, here are the most recent rankings from one study which has applied various health measures to the states. The healthiest states in 2007 were these:

1. Vermont
2. Hawaii
3. Iowa
4. Minnesota
5. Maine
New Hampshire (tie)

And the least healthy states in 2007 were these:

47. Nevada
48. Arkansas
49. Louisiana
50. Oklahoma
51. Mississippi

The article I link to notes that the least healthy states in general have many more uninsured individuals than the healthiest states, and that is true. They probably also have less access to health care facilities in the more concrete sense. But attributing all the health differences to differences in health care utilization is probably a big mistake, because the determinants of good health are complex and depend not only on health care use but also on general life-styles, incomes, education, pollution levels, crime and so on.

Take incomes, for example. Higher incomes allow people to have better nutrition, safer homes and health care. Higher incomes are also usually earned in ways which are less risky for the bodies in terms of accidents and occupational illnesses. It probably doesn't surprise you then that a ranking of states by medium income in the early 2000s looks almost exactly like that health ranking.

None of this means that the low-ranking states wouldn't be greatly helped by access to better health insurance. That's why it's so very odd that those are the very states which send the most backward politicians to Washington D.C..