America’s Healthiest And Least Healthy States

A new analysis of the country’s health data finds that it’s probably pretty good for you to live in paradise (Hawaii) and pretty bad for you to live in the South.

Do you live in New York? You’re more likely to be sleep-deprived than residents of other U.S. states. If you’re in Colorado, congratulations, you’re most likely to have gotten some exercise in the last 30 days. Alaskans, crazily enough, are most likely to experience violent crime, as a percentage of their population.


These are all some of the fascinating results of a the 2015 state-by-state analysis of public health put out by the United Health Foundation (the charitable arm of the major insurer) and the American Public Health Association. First published in 1990, the study claims to be the longest-running state level analysis of public health in the United States; it looks at a wide variety of health-related measures, from obesity and cardiovascular disease rates to physical activity, violent crime, insurance rates, air pollution, and poverty. All data is compiled from secondary sources, such as government surveys, and placed in a common metric so states can be compared to each other.

Nationally, the findings show that adults are getting more active (less than 1 in 4 people in the U.S. are now “inactive”) and smoking less. That’s a big deal: Physical inactivity leads to 1 in 10 deaths yearly, according to the report.

But that doesn’t mean that the nation’s long-term health is improving: While deaths from cardiovascular-related causes have continued to decline over the last decade, obesity, diabetes, drug deaths, and “premature deaths” (people who die before age 75) all rose in the last year, according to the data. The number of children living in poverty is also on the rise.

Today, almost 29.6% of adults are obese (compared with 27.6% two years ago), and about 10% report that they have diabetes, according to the study. The obesity figures are slightly lower than a recent survey released from the National Center for Health Statistics that showed, from 2011 to 2014, 26.5% of adults were obese (and 17% of kids under 17.) And while diabetes rates are not dropping, the rate of new cases has been decreasing since 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control–a hopeful sign since the disease took off 25 years ago.

Among states, Hawaii is the healthiest overall, as it has been for the previous three years. Particular areas it stands out are for include low obesity, low preventable hospitalizations, and few “poor mental health days.” (Maybe it helps to live in paradise.) Vermont, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire round out the top five. Interestingly, these do not overlap with the most active states (Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Idaho). Meanwhile, North Carolina is the most improved, rising from 31 to 37 in the rankings–largely due to a decline in sedentary behavior among survey respondents.

The top most unhealthy states are all in the south: Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Alabama. Drug deaths, which increased nationally since the 2014 survey, are most common in West Virginia and New Mexico and least common in North and South Dakota. Interestingly, binge drinking is most common in North Dakota and least common in West Virginia. (Seems like states tend to pick their poison and stick with it.) West Virginia and Kentucky also have the most smokers.


Dig into the report more here, and see how your state is doing.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.