America’s Health Rankings

The United Health Foundation has released its America’s Health Rankings report for 2006. According to the Foundation, this report is “a yearly assessment of the relative healthiness of the nation, based upon analysis of comprehensive determining factors such as personal behaviors, the environment in which people live and work, the decisions made by public and elected officials and the quality of medical care delivered by health professionals.” The report compares relative U.S. healthiness among states (Minnesota is tops for the 17th year) and against other countries.

The foreword to the report warns

To our dismay, this year’s report once again documents the lack of significant progress in improving health status, a trend we first noticed in 2000. And, alarmingly, overall health in the United States continues to suffer in comparison to that of many other nations. For example, a baby girl born today in the United States has a healthy life expectancy of 71 years compared to 78 years for a baby girl born today in Japan! Our country can do better, and our children deserve better. It is our collective hope that this report will continue to stimulate action by people, communities, health professionals, policy leaders, politicians and others as we intelligently dedicate our rich national resources toward the goal of optimal health and survival for all Americans.

I scratched my head when I read that U.S. life expectancy was 71 years at birth for girls. According to the National Center on Health Statistics, the average life expectancy of a newborn girl in the U.S. was 80.1 years in 2003, which reflects quite a public health accomplishment. (It was 71.1 years in 1950.) A Japanese Aging Center website reports that the average life expectancy of 85.2 years in 2002.

I then recognized that the United Health Foundation is using a different statistic “healthy life expectancy“. According to the World Health Organization, this statistic “is based on life expectancy (LEX), but includes an adjustment for time spent in poor health. This indicator measures the equivalent number of years in full health that a newborn child can expect to live based on the current mortality rates and prevalence distribution of health states in the population.” I’m not sure if I buy this statistic, but you do learn something new everyday.

Here is a link to the World Health Organization’s World Health Statistics 2006′ and ‘The World Health Report, 2006 Edition’