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The healthiest states in America

Americans are 0.3 percent healthier than they were last year, which is significantly less than the 1.5 percent increase in health that was seen between 1990 and 2000. United Health Foundation's annual ranking of states by health also shows that the U.S. is behind other nations in healthy life expectancy and infant mortality.

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The 2006 report analyzes the relative healthiness of the American population using information supplied by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Commerce, Education and Labor, National Safety Council, and National Association of State Budget Officers. It analyses factors such as personal behaviors (such as smoking and obesity), work and home environments, quality of medical care delivered, and decisions made by public and elected officials.

Top 5 healthy states
1. Minnesota
2. Vermont
3. New Hampshire
4. Hawaii
5. Connecticut

Least healthy states
46. Arkansas
47. Tennessee
48. South Carolina
49. Mississippi
50. Louisiana

Minnesota captured first place this year, a spot it has held for 11 of the 17 years since the United Health Foundation started its rankings. Minnesota rests in the top spot this year because it ranks first for its low rate of cardiovascular deaths, a low premature death rate and a low percentage of uninsured population. Minnesota also has a low percentage of children in poverty, a low total mortality rate, a low infant mortality rate, a low occupational fatalities rate, and a low rate of motor vehicle deaths, and a high rate of high school graduation.

Even with those good numbers, Minnesota has health challenges, such as obesity among 23.7 percent of its population.

Louisiana fell one place this year to hit the bottom at No. 50. It ranks in the bottom states for numerous measures, including high obesity, high occupational fatalities, high percentage of children in poverty, high infant mortality rate, high cancer deaths, and a high premature death rate.

Nationwide health stagnation

While the overall health of Americans has improved 18.7 percent since 1990, the rate of health increase has slowed considerably since 2000. That's because while determinants such as infectious disease, cardiovascular deaths and motor vehicle deaths have reduced, there is persistent tobacco use and a relatively high infant mortality rate. Plus, obesity is up from 11.6 percent in 1990 to almost 25 percent today. Because obesity is a precursor to many other disease, it can have a significant negative impact on overall health.

Significant changes in key categories

Infant mortality

  • There has been a 35 percent decrease in infant mortality from 1990 to 2006, from 10.2 deaths to 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Prenatal care

  • There was almost a 10 percent improvement in prenatal care since 1990, with 75.4 percent of pregnant women receiving adequate prenatal care in 2006.

Infectious disease

  • There's been a 45 percent decrease in incidence of infectious disease from 1990 to 2006, from 40.7 to 22.6 cases per 100,000 population.

Cardiovascular deaths

  • There's been a 20 percent decrease in the death rate from cardiovascular disease, from 406.3 deaths in 1990 to 325 deaths per 100,000 population.

Smoking

  • There's been a 30 percent nationwide decrease in smoking from 1990 to 2006, from 29.5 percent to 20.6 percent.

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