The nation’s health worsened this year, but a healthy future could be on the horizon, according to the latest edition of "America’s Health Rankings" from the United Health Foundation (UHF).
Nearly one in three (31.3%) American adults now qualify as obese, a 5% increase from 2017, according to the report (PDF), released this week. The rate of cardiovascular deaths has increased 2% over the last three years from 250.8 to 256.8 per 100,000 individuals.
The mortality rate due to drug-related causes has increased as well, climbing from 13.5 to 16.9 per 100,000 individuals since 2015, a 25% rise.
Health insurance companies have been attempting to address these issues. United Health itself recently began offering its group members Apple Watches and incentivizing them to "walk off" their extra weight. And many insurers, from Cigna to Independence Blue Cross, have taken it upon themselves to reduce opioid prescribing.
Despite these setbacks, the country has made progress as well. The number of children in poverty is down 19%, falling from 22.6% in 2013 to 18.4% this year.
The child poverty rate is "a key indicator of socioeconomic status and health throughout the lifespan," UHF wrote.
Additionally, the number of primary care physicians is up 8% since 2016, news many will welcome amid concerns about an impending—or current (PDF)—shortage of these docs. The number of mental health practitioners is on the rise as well, increasing 8% over the last year alone.
These numbers are a step in the right direction, but not enough to fill those gaps, according to Rhonda Randall, D.O., chief Medical officer of UnitedHealthcare's national markets and an adviser on America’s Health Rankings.
“It is difficult to determine what is driving [this] improvement,” Randall said. Rural communities and certain states are bearing the brunt of this shortage, she pointed out, a statement in line with numbers from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
If thinking about this problem stresses you out, pause and take a deep breath: Air pollution is down 12% since 2015.
“Studies have shown that decreasing the concentration of fine particulates in the air leads to lower risk of all-cause mortality, lung cancer and death from cardiovascular disease,” UHF said.
However, this alone is not enough to reverse the damaging health effects of climate change. In the face of deregulatory environmental policy, healthcare professionals say drastic action is needed to address climate change, which is already causing an uptick in certain illnesses and fatalities around the world.
In her email to FierceHealthcare, Randall did not comment on what a rise in pollutants may mean for America’s health or for health insurers.
She did, however, say UHF hopes “healthcare leaders of all kinds—including us—gain valuable insights to develop programs, services and approaches to care that meet the unique and urgent needs of their communities” through the rankings.
An interactive version of the data is available here.