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Pa. health: Middle of pack but mirrors troubling U.S. trends

Pennsylvania ranked as the 28th healthiest state in 2016, up one spot from last year, but still faces disconcerting health issues, according to an annual report published by the United Health Foundation.

Pennsylvania ranked as the 28th healthiest state in 2016, up one spot from last year, but still faces disconcerting health issues, according to an annual report published by the United Health Foundation.

Pennsylvania has consistently fallen in the middle of the pack since America’s Health Rankings was first published in 1989 by the foundation, the philanthropic arm of the UnitedHealth Group, a managed health care insurance company based in Minnetonka, Minn.

The report conducts a state-by-state assessment of the nation’s health based on an analysis of 34 measures of behaviors, policies, clinical care, outcomes and community and environmental conditions.

The report indicates that Pennsylvania had made progress in health care, particularly in adolescent immunization and prevalence of primary care physicians, where it ranks among the top five states in both categories. And the state mirrored the national trend of a steadily declining percentage of smokers, dropping from 22.4 percent to 18.1 percent in the past four years.

But some troubling trends continue to plague Pennsylvania, such as increased drug-related deaths and rising rates of obesity.

Like the rest of the country, Pennsylvania is facing an epidemic of drug-related deaths, and is among the 10 states with the highest rates. In the past five years, drug deaths have risen 36 percent in Pennsylvania, from 14.6 per 100,000 people to 19.8 per 100,000, the report said.

Of particular concern was the rise for the first time in cardiovascular deaths nationally despite medical advances in this area, said Dr. Reed Tuckson, external senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation.

“This data provides a road map for states, local communities and the public health sector to work together to get ahead of the challenges coming,” Tuckson said.

Desha Dickson, director of community health and engagement at Reading Health System, said she was not surprised by the report’s state or national findings.

Dickson, who was involved in the 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment, an analysis of Berks County’s health, said the data mirror Berks’ health trends: declining tobacco use, rising rates of obesity and drug-related deaths.

Wendy Solomon

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