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ARTICLE America's Health Rankings Report Finds Seniors Are Improving in Key Health Measures


MINNETONKA, Minn. (May 21, 2014) – Seniors are showing encouraging gains in key health measures and taking more steps to improve their own health, according to the second edition of United Health Foundation's America's Health Rankings® Senior Report: A Call to Action for Individuals and Their Communities.

Minnesota is the healthiest state for seniors for the second year in a row. Hawaii ranks second, followed by New Hampshire (3), Vermont (4) and Massachusetts (5). Mississippi is the least healthy state for seniors, followed by Louisiana (49), Kentucky (48), Oklahoma (47) and Arkansas (46).

Key findings include:

  • Seniors are more active compared to last year, with physical inactivity declining from 30.3 percent of the senior population to 28.7 percent.
  • Preventable hospitalizations dropped from 66.6 discharges per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries to 64.9 discharges.
  • Nursing home care improved, with quality nursing home beds rising from 42 percent of beds rated four or five stars to 46.8 percent.

"We commissioned this report to understand and identify ways to improve seniors' health because Americans are living longer and the senior population will double in size over the next 25 years," said Reed Tuckson, M.D., senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation. "It's time to shift our focus from how long Americans are living, to how well we're living. We want this report to encourage seniors and the people in their lives to be more active, to talk about end-of-life plans and to live the best lives we all can."

"The decline in physical inactivity indicated in the report shows that seniors are making progress in living healthier lives," said Rhonda Randall, D.O., senior adviser to United Health Foundation and chief medical officer and executive vice president, UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions. "However, significant challenges remain – such as the prevalence of obesity and many chronic conditions – that we as a nation need to address in order to improve seniors' health and quality of life. It is up to us – communities, states and the health care system – to promote healthy behaviors among this growing demographic."

Minnesota's strengths include ranking first for all health determinants combined, which includes ranking in the top five states for a high rate of dental visits, a high percentage of volunteerism, a high percentage of quality nursing home beds, a low percentage of marginal food insecurity, a high percentage of prescription drug coverage, and ready availability of home health care workers. Like all states, Minnesota has areas where it can improve: its challenges include low community support expenditures and a low prevalence of older adults with a dedicated health care provider.

Rapidly expanding senior population poses challenges

With the senior population poised to double in the next 25 years, states and local communities should continue to address unhealthy behaviors that threaten to compromise seniors' health. More than 35 percent have four or more chronic conditions, while more than 25 percent of seniors are obese and 28 percent are physically inactive. Only about 60 percent of seniors received the flu vaccine in the last 12 months. Older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2030, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, making these challenges urgent.

"Chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease not only affect seniors' overall health but place pressure on families, caregivers and our health care system," said Dr. Tuckson. "These challenges will only intensify as the senior population continues to grow. It's critical that we work together ?individuals, families, communities, states and the health care system? to develop solutions that address chronic illness among seniors and lay the groundwork for improved health for generations to come."

About America's Health Rankings Senior Report

America's Health Rankings Senior Report: A Call to Action for Individuals and Their Communities offers a comprehensive analysis of senior population health on a national and state-by-state basis across 34 measures of senior health. In commissioning the report, United Health Foundation seeks to promote discussion around the health of older Americans while driving communities, governments, stakeholders and individuals to take action to improve senior health.

Researchers draw data from more than 12 government agencies and leading research organizations to create a focused, uniquely rich dataset for measuring senior health at the state level, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Labor, The Dartmouth Atlas Project, the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger and the Commonwealth Fund.

United Health Foundation also produces the annual America's Health Rankings report. For 24 years, America's Health Rankings has provided an analysis of national health on a state-by-state basis by evaluating a historical and comprehensive set of health, environmental and socioeconomic data to determine national health benchmarks and state rankings. The Rankings employs a unique methodology, developed and annually reviewed by a Scientific Advisory Committee of leading public health scholars.

The America's Health Rankings Senior Report and the America's Health Rankings Report are designed to identify health opportunities in communities as well as multistakeholder, multidisciplinary approaches to improving the health of the population. Through its programs and grants, United Health Foundation puts a spotlight on the health of America while promoting evidence-based solutions and means to improve it.

About United Health Foundation

Through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts, United Health Foundation works to improve our health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce and enhance the well-being of local communities. United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. To date, United Health Foundation has committed more than $240 million to programs and communities around the world.