Missouri's health slips to 40th in the nation

Dec 28, 2011

Each year, the United Health Foundation ranks states' health. And almost every year, Missouri drops in the rankings. This year, the Show Me State fell from the 39th spot, to 40th. In this week's Health & Wealth update, why we're getting less healthy and what we can do about it. I speak with Thomas McAuliffe, policy analyst with the Missouri Foundation for Health.

Click here to listen to my full interview with McAuliffe.

In 1990, the first year the rankings were published, Missouri wasn't doing too badly, coming in at 24th. But over the years our health has steadily dropped relative to other states. Vermont, which was close to Missouri back in the early 90s, has steadily climbed, reaching the number one spot, and staying there over the past four years. At the bottom of the pack, Mississippi is the least healthy state, a dubious honor it's held for most of the past 21 years.

Missouri's health ranking is hurt by our high rates of obesity, cardiovascular deaths and smoking, and our low rates of immunizations, public health spending, and our poor diets. On the bright side, we have been doing quite well with early prenatal care.

Thomas McAuliffe, with the Missouri Foundation for Health, says the state's poor ranking reflects our priorities:

"Juxtapose this. Missouri is working hard to be the number one business friendly state. Lowest taxes, great incentives, tax abatement. But at the same time, we've jumped from 24th to 40th."

What's the point in comparing states like this? After all, the rankings are relative: in every state we are getting more obese and more of us are suffering from diabetes, while a few of us are leaving off smoking. But McAuliffe says the yearly rankings shine a momentary media spotlight on health disparities. "You and I wouldn't be talking if this report hadn't come out," he tells me. True enough.

But, he says the rankings need to be taken with a grain or two of salt. For one thing, a year over year improvement in any one health indicator doesn't necessarily mean real change.

"The best example is that this report suggests that the number of children living in poverty has decreased. It's like 20 percent now. In 2001 we were at ten percent. So, yes, we have decreased by three percent since last year, but relative to 2001, we were at ten percent. This suggests we still have major, major work ahead."

Click here to see the full report on Missouri's health compared to the other 49 states. You're sure to enjoy the interactive animated map, complete with sound effects.