Massachusetts ranks 4th in nation for overall health

Massachusetts moved up three places in an annual state health ranking that came out on Tuesday, grabbing the No. 4 spot for healthiest state overall in a measure of 24 parameters including rates for smoking, alcohol abuse, exercise, violent crime, diabetes, heart disease, and infectious diseases, as well as access to primary care physicians.

Vermont nabbed the top spot again for the sixth year in a row, and all the New England states were in the top 10 for overall health. Massachusetts ranked 7th last year. Southern states such as West Virginia, Arkansas, and Mississippi fell, as usual, at the bottom of the rankings, likely because they have lower income populations.

While medical advances have helped lengthen Americans’ average lifespans by lowering early deaths from cancer and heart disease, our health has gotten worse in other ways with increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and sedentary behavior.

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“As a nation, we’ve made extraordinary gains in longevity over the past decades, but as individuals we are regressing in our health,” Dr. Reed Tuckson, medical adviser of the nonprofit United Health Foundation, which conducted the ranking, said in a statement.

Massachusetts has followed national trends with increasing obesity rates—though the state has one of the lowest rates in the nation—and decreasing smoking rates. The state has a low rate of uninsured residents, thanks to its health law, and also has a low death rate from work-related injuries.

Where the state stands to improve? Reducing health disparities in its Hispanic and black populations, its high prevalence of binge drinking, and its high rate of preventable hospitalizations.

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