Alaska's sickly health rating deteriorates

State drops six spots to 30th in the nation

Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Limited access to prenatal care, low immunization rates and a high prevalence of smoking caused Alaska to drop six spots in a ranking of the nation's healthiest states released Monday.

Alaska was ranked 30th in the 2005 America's Health Rankings, issued annually by United Health Foundation with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.

"I think the data is accurately represented," said Dick Mandsager, director of the state Division of Public Health. "The issues they highlight are issues that we've been trying to raise attention to, too."

The report ranks states based on smoking rates, motor vehicle deaths, obesity rates, violent crime, health insurance coverage, poverty rates, public health spending and similar categories.

Minnesota was ranked as the healthiest state, followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, Utah and Hawaii.

Mississippi was named the least healthy state, with Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Arkansas rounding out the bottom five.

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The survey dropped Alaska from 24th place last year because of a number of challenges.

A third of pregnant Alaska women have limited access to adequate prenatal care, the survey says.

It also cited Alaska's low immunization coverage, with 75.3 percent of children ages 19 months to 35 months receiving complete immunizations.

Other negatives cited by the study were Alaska's low high school graduation rate, with 60.7 percent of incoming ninth graders who graduate within four years, and Alaska's high smoking rate. The survey says one out of every four Alaskans light up.

The survey also noted health disparities in the state. For instance, the infant mortality rate varies from a low of 5.1 dates per 1,000 live births for non-Hispanic whites, to a high of 11.2 deaths for Alaska Natives/American Indians.

Mandsager said this is a "helpful reflector of where we are," and that "we need to pay attention to the health of the whole population of the state, whether you have insurance or not."

The survey also noted strengths for the state, including the high per capita public health spending at $482 per person. That ranked Alaska second in the nation behind Hawaii; the U.S. average was $162.

Other positives in the report included a low percentage of children in poverty, 12 percent.

The report noted that births per 1,000 teenage females decreased 20.2 percent, from 66 births in 1991 to 39.5 births in 2002. It notes that if this declined had not occurred, there would be an additional 9.4 percent of children under age 6 in poverty in 2002.

Other strengths noted in the report was a low total mortality rate of 795.4 per 100,00 population, and a low rate of cardiovascular deaths at 275.1 deaths per 100,000 population.

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