Study: Alaska is most improved state on healthiness meter

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska has shown the most improvement in healthiness among the 50 states.

According to the United Health Foundation, a private organization, Alaska ranks in the middle for healthiness but has jumped more than 20 places in the past 12 years, from 45th place to 25th.

The nonprofit foundation, which just released the 2001 results of its annual state health rankings, said Alaska has the lowest rates of heart disease and cancer. But work still needs to be done to improve Alaska's unemployment rate, prenatal care and large number of occupational deaths.

''Everybody's been really working hard in a lot of areas, and I think all of that effort shows in this report,'' Karen Pearson, the state's public health director, told the Anchorage Daily News.

''The other side of that is there's still a lot to do. I don't want people to be misled that the job's done (and that) everything's fine now.''

Alaska's health data may conceal some trends, however. For example, the state does have low rates of heart disease but it's seeing more and more people with risk factors for heart disease, such as being overweight and sedentary.

The state also has high rates of occupational fatalities compared with other states, in jobs such as logging and fishing. But that situation is improving, Pearson said. In the past decade, the rate of occupational fatalities in Alaska has fallen from 29.9 per 100,000 workers to 13.4.

The United Health Foundation, established in 1999, examines the healthiness of state populations by monitoring lifestyles, access to health care, occupational safety, diseases and mortality. The group taps data from many agencies, including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Safety Council and the American Cancer Society.

In 2001, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Utah were ranked the three healthiest states while South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana finished last. Alaska, Arkansas and Connecticut made the most improvements during the past year.

Specifically, Alaska showed the greatest improvement overall in lowering the infectious disease and infant mortality rates. Today, Alaska reports 16.4 cases of infectious diseases per 100,000 people. The infant mortality rate is 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Alaska's violent crime rate, however, is going up, while the nation's has declined. The state's violent crime rate over the 12-year period ending this year jumped from 455 to 632 offenses per 100,000 people.

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