Rankings reveal which states are healthiest for aging adults

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Images by Judy Baxter, NCVO and Steven Gray via Flickr.

Images by Judy Baxter, NCVO and Steven Gray via Flickr.

Massachusetts tops this year’s list of healthiest places for older adults, according to the 2016 America’s Health Rankings Senior Report. The Bay State jumped to the top perch from sixth place in 2015 thanks to it’s high overall health status, high percentage of diabetes management and low hip fracture rate.

Smoking decreased 20 percent since last year, which moves Massachusetts up 20 places in the ranking of that specific measure. Physical inactivity decreased 12 percent – people are sitting less and moving more. However, there’s some work to do on flu shots: The report found that vaccinations decreased by 13 percent from 2015.

Two other New England states, Vermont and New Hampshire, ranked second and third respectively in this year’s report. The other states in the top 10 are Minnesota, Hawaii, Utah, Colorado, Maine, Connecticut and Washington.

This is the fourth year that America’s Health Rankings Senior Report conducted a comprehensive analysis of senior population health on a national and state-by-state basis across 35 measures of senior health.

Louisiana is 50th again this year. The state’s strengths include high flu vaccination coverage, low prevalence of falls and ready availability of home health care workers. Another plus: annual dental visits increased 12 percent in the past year and full-mouth teeth extractions decreased 29 percent. However, the high prevalence of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity remain yearly challenges.

Oklahoma is also a step below the other bottom states, the report notes. Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Mississippi round out the bottom six states. The measures used to define health are interdependent and intermingled across all aspects of activity, geography and health outcomes.

Nationally, there were notable positive health gains. In the past year, preventable hospitalizations declined by 9 percent among Medicare beneficiaries and hip fractures declined by 5 percent. Over the past three years, the number of home health care workers per 1,000 adults age 75 and older increased by 18 percent.

Hospice care rose by 40 percent over the past three years while in-hospital deaths decreased by 29 percent over the same period. And more U.S. adults 65+ say they are in very good or excellent health, an increase of 7 percent compared to three years ago.

However, many challenges in caring for older adults remain:

  • Spending on community support for older adults in poverty decreased by 7 percent from 2015, as did home-delivered meals.
  • An additional 5 percent of older adults say they experience food insecurity compared to last year.
  • SNAP – the supplemental nutrition program, saw a 10 percent decrease in the past year, from reaching 75.2 percent to 67.4 percent of seniors in poverty.
  • Obesity is on the rise. There was a 9 percent increase in the past three years among adults aged 65+.

The U.S. senior population is expected to grow 49.5 percent by 2030. So this year, the report also looks ahead to challenges affecting the senior population in the next 15 years.

Not only will the next generation of seniors rapidly grow in numbers, but the they are projected to have higher rates of obesity (25 percent) and diabetes (55 percent) and a lower rate of excellent or very good health status (9 percent). The good news is they smoke 50 percent less than the current generation of seniors.

The rankings are important, but they are only a starting point.

Here are some suggestions for journalists about using the state-by-state listings (available as an interactive map).

  • Shows no change. There may be a significant change in one or more measures that was been offset by an equally significant change in the opposite direction by other measures. Or, if there were changes, it may not have affected a state’s overall ranking relative to other states.
  • Shows little change. A big shift in a measure or two may be masked by an abundance of smaller shifts with other measures.
  • Shows big change. There may be one significant data point that is driving this.

How is your state doing compared with others? How does it fare on individual benchmarks? What programs or services are in place (or have been cut) that impact the findings?

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