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May 29, 2024

Southern States Struggle with Poor Health Outcomes

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Jan 10, 2024

West Virginia Ranks Last in National Health Index

West Virginia has been named the unhealthiest state in America for the third year in a row according to the 2024 Healthiest States rankings report from Forbes Health advisor. The report analyzed health data across all 50 states looking at factors like rates of smoking, obesity, mental health, food insecurity, health care access, health behaviors, and outcomes. West Virginia ranked poorly across most health indicators, placing 50th out of 50 states in both the Health Behaviors rank and Health Outcomes rank.

High rates of smoking and obesity were major contributing factors to West Virginia’s last place ranking. According to the report, West Virginia has the 7th highest adult smoking rate at 23% and the highest obesity rate in the country with 39.7% of adults being obese. These risky health behaviors lead to poor outcomes including high rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. West Virginia’s premature death rate is 21% higher than the national average.

Southern States Dominate List of Unhealthiest States

While West Virginia ranked last, the broader trend evident in the 2024 health rankings is the poor performance of Southern states when it comes to public health. 8 of the 10 least healthy states including West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and South Carolina are located in the South.

Contributing factors shared by many Souther states that negatively impact health include high poverty rates, large rural populations with limited access to care, poor diet/nutrition, and behaviors like smoking. Most Southern states also chose not to expand Medicaid access under the Affordable Care Act leaving many low income residents uninsured. This likely contributes to health disparities and uneven access to preventative care across economic lines.

On the other end of the spectrum, states with the healthiest populations were concentrated in New England and the West. The top 5 healthiest states were Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington and Connecticut. These states generally have more expansive social safety nets, better access to fruits/vegetables, higher rates of exercise, lower smoking rates and better mental health outcomes.

State Public Health Spending Cut During Pandemic

Ironically, overall state public health funding dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic even as public health departments were called upon to lead critical pandemic response efforts. According to an analysis by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, per capita state public health funding dropped by 18% from 2019 to 2021 with over 20 states making cuts. This underinvestment in resources for core public health functions like health education, chronic disease prevention, infection control and environmental health monitoring comes even as the U.S. is facing massive health crises like COVID-19, record drug overdoses, rising obesity/diabetes rates.

Restoring support for public health programs and social safety net programs will be critical for addressing systemic health disparities evidenced by rankings like Forbes’ Healthiest State Index. Policy experts recommend increased investments in Medicaid, public health departments, nutrition assistance programs, mental health resources, rural health clinics and health education. While personal responsibility plays a role in health, state policy also shapes health behaviors and access to care.

Outlook Going Forward

With Southern states making up a majority of the least healthy states, policymakers in the region will need to take active measures to improve health outcomes. Expanding Medicaid to increase health coverage for low income residents would be an important first step. Public health funding also needs to be restored and policies enacted to address root causes of health disparities related to poverty, education, food access and availability of health services. Otherwise, Southern states are likely to continue lagging behind national health benchmarks.

Addressing systemic barriers to health in disadvantaged communities will require coordination across state agencies, public-private partnerships as well as individual behavior change. But investment in preventative care and health resources today could pay long term dividends by reducing burden of chronic illnesses. State leaders have a vested interest both economically and morally in improving their population health rankings.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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