New Jersey is one of the Top Six states to improve its health over the past 25 years, according to the annual state health rankings released Wednesday by the United Health Foundation, an affiliate of health insurer UnitedHealth Group.For 2014, New Jersey ranked as the 11th-healthiest state in the nation, a one-notch decline from its 10th-place ranking in 2013.
However, New Jersey has risen over the years from a low of 25th place and “made tremendous progress in areas such as smoking cessation, reducing the infant mortality rate and lowering the number of cardiovascular deaths,” the foundation said. The report also cited continued health challenges for New Jersey: “A dangerous trend of increasing rates of obesity, physical inactivity and diabetes.”
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This is the 25th year that UnitedHealth Foundation has collected and ranked state health data.
Nationwide, Hawaii again took the title of healthiest state, according to the foundation.
Vermont came in second, followed by Massachusetts, which improved to third after being ranked fourth for two years. Connecticut came in fourth, rising three slots from last year. Utah came in fifth. Mississippi ranked 50th this year, preceded by Arkansas (49th), Louisiana (48th), Kentucky (47th) and Oklahoma (46th). West Virginia and Alabama moved out of the bottom five.
The foundation cited the following New Jersey health strengths:
And the following health challenges:
“New Jersey is one of the states that has most improved the health of its residents since United Health Foundation first began reporting America’s Health Rankings25 years ago,” said Dr. Anju Sikka, medical director, UnitedHealthcare of New Jersey. “We have made tremendous progress in areas such as smoking cessation, reducing the infant mortality rate and lowering the number of cardiovascular deaths. But we continue a dangerous trend of increasing rates of obesity, physical inactivity and diabetes, which we must urgently address with new ways to encourage healthy behavior.”
State Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd said building healthier communities has been a priority for the department for several years.
“We lead a partnership of 230 businesses, community groups, nutrition and wellness advocates, health insurers and national and state leaders who share strategies to make New Jersey a healthier place to live,” O’Dowd said, adding that her department has funded efforts “to create walking and biking paths to schools, shops and transit centers; and to increase access to fruits and vegetables in child care centers, schools and neighborhood stores. We have given grants to hospitals to improve breastfeeding rates as a way to reduce childhood obesity. Infants breastfed for nine months have a 30 percent reduced risk for obesity, according to the CDC.”
She these efforts are making a difference: “We are starting to see the tide turn with a significant drop in the obesity rate among 2-5-year-olds.”
Last January, the health department unveiled a five-year roadmap for promoting wellness and preventing chronic diseases like obesity. The plan, “Partnering for a Healthy NJ,” outlines top priorities to:
Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, said the rankings are a well-done summary of available health statistics.
“We are a pretty healthy state because we have, on average, a high education and high income population,” Cantor said. “New Jersey’s public health investments also have paid off, in low smoking rates, for example.”
Linda Schwimmer, vice president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said: “It’s gratifying to see the state’s progress with smoking cessation. Still, we need to do more to address the rising rates of obesity and to increase physical activity. There is a great deal of evidence that shows that community-based interventions go a long way in bringing the greatest health benefits to people and in reducing health disparities caused by income and education.”
She pointed out that through the institute’s Mayors Wellness Campaign, “over half of the mayors in New Jersey offer wellness programs to their residents in an effort to close these health gaps and instill health as a core community value.”
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