By ANDY MILLER - Georgia Health News
Georgia remained at 41st in a national ranking of the healthiest states compiled by the United Health Foundation.
Placing in the 40s is a typical ranking for the Peach State on health measures. Other southern states did equally poorly.
According to America’s Health Rankings– released last week – Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont, Utah and Connecticut were the five healthiest states. West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi were the least healthy in the 2017 rankings.
The rankings were based on 35 measures, including behavior, community and environment, policy, clinical care and outcomes data.
In another ranking, Georgia placed 39th among states in overall access to health care, the Commonwealth Fund reported.
Georgia scored well on immunization rates and reportedly had a low prevalence of excessive drinking and a low drug death rate.
The state’s ranking was dragged down by measures such as a high percentage of people without health insurance, children in poverty, infant mortality and chlamydia infections. Georgia also has a low number of mental health providers, the report said.
Rural health care in particular faces big challenges, with higher poverty and disease prevalence, according to the report.
A state House committee recently mentioned the low rankings in its call for improvement of rural health care in Georgia.
“Georgia’s overall health status, health system performance and clinical care rankings are low in the nation. Because the scores are an overall average that include metro Atlanta’s relatively positive performance and delivery, it means rural rankings are likely even lower,’’ said the House Rural Development Council last week.
Among other findings for Georgia:
•In the past five years, preventable hospitalizations decreased 27 percent from 68.4 to 50.2 discharges per 1,000 Medicare enrollees.
•In the past 15 years, Georgia children in poverty increased 20 percent, from 19.3 percent to 23.2 percent of children.
•In the past two years, meningococcal immunization among adolescents increased 22 percent from 74.9 percent to 91.4 percent of adolescents aged 13 to 17.
•In the past five years, obesity increased 12 percent from 28.0 percent to 31.4 percent of Georgia adults.
The Georgia Department of Public Health responded to the ranking and noted the state is improving in some important areas.
“While Georgia’s overall ranking has not changed, we are seeing improvement in measures that we have the ability to move quickly – HPV [human papillomavirus] and preventable hospitalization – from measures that are negative to measures that positively influence the state’s overall ranking,’’ said Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for Public Health.
“With a clear focus on our priorities – early brain development, cardiac care, childhood obesity and the opioid epidemic – we are working aggressively to address our biggest challenges and barriers to protecting lives and keeping Georgians healthy,’’ Nydam added.
Colin Smith of the Georgia State University School of Public Health said poverty is a key factor in such health rankings. But he indicated one of Georgia’s strengths — its ability to detect cases of disease — can sometimes make the state look worse.
He said because Georgia has a good disease surveillance system, it’s held against the state in rankings that include disease rates. He cited the state’s finding of a high rate of chlamydia.
States with less income inequality and/or more government spending on social services typically are highest in health rankings, Smith said. Georgia should focus targeted interventions in geographic areas that have the highest negative statistics, such as infant mortality, he said.
Across the United States, the premature death rate increased for the third straight year. This year also showed increases in the rates of cardiovascular and drug deaths nationwide.
Drug deaths continued on an upward trend, increasing by 7 percent to the highest level recorded by America’s Health Rankings and were particularly high among whites.