WASHINGTON — Minnesota tops the nation as the healthiest state for senior citizens. Iowa and Nebraska rank highly. And Mississippi is the unhealthiest, according to a report from the United Health Foundation, a nonprofit arm of insurer UnitedHealth Group.
The “America's Health Rankings Senior Report: A Call to Action,” uses 34 measurements of health data to grade each state's performance in providing a healthy environment for people 65 and older. As baby boomers enter that age group, it will swell from about 43 million now to 92 million in 2060, according to federal projections.
As the number of senior citizens increases, so too will their life spans, thanks to improvements in medical care. But half this group have multiple chronic health conditions, mainly because of poor health choices such as smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise.
The new report will help states to measure their progress on senior health and to better aim resources where they are needed, said Dr. Rhonda Randall, an adviser to the health foundation. For instance, it said:
» After top-ranked Minnesota, the healthiest states for senior citizens were Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Iowa. Nebraska was 14th.
» In individual categories, Iowa ranked first and Nebraska seventh in the degree of volunteerism among seniors. Nebraska was fourth in the number of highly rated nursing home beds. Iowa had the highest flu vaccination rate.
» Mississippi ranked in the bottom five for 14 of the 34 health measures. It ranked worst in annual dental visits, poverty, hunger and premature death. Mississippi, one of the poorest states, faces “a difficult challenge ... to improve its rank in the near future,” the report summed up.
» The rest of the bottom-ranking states were Oklahoma, Louisiana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Nevada and Tennessee.
» Obesity rates ranged from a low of 17 percent in Hawaii to 29 percent in Illinois, Iowa, Alaska and Michigan. Nebraska was just over 27 percent.
» About 9 percent of senior citizens smoke. State rates vary from 4.7 percent in Utah to 13.5 percent in Nevada. Iowa: 7.1 percent. Nebraska: 8.6 percent.
World-Herald staff writer Bob Glissmann contributed to this report.