Tennessee ranks 43rd for health in nation
Published 8:54 am Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Tennessee has shown progress in reducing adult obesity, infant mortality and physical inactivity, but ranks poorly with other states for its smoking rate and days with poor mental health, according to a report by the United Health Foundation.
Its strides have moved it from an overall ranking of 45th to 43rd in the nation, but specific areas vary greatly.
The state’s strengths placed it in 2nd for low prevalence of excessive drinking and in 6th for small disparity in health status by education level. But its challenges ranked it last in the nation for both poor mental health days and low immunization among adolescent females for HPV. It also ranked 47th for adult smoking.
Tennessee ranks 44th for cancer death rates. They have remained steady over the last 15 years, despite a gradual increase in obesity over that time period. Obesity rates peaked in 2014 claiming 33.7 percent of the adult population–a percentage which dropped to 31.2 percent this year, ranking Tennessee 36th in the nation.
Sycamore Shoals Hospital Registered Dietitian Eric Crawford believes continuing the reversal of the trend towards obesity begins in childhood.
“Diet and exercise would go a long way decreasing deaths from obesity and cancer,” he said, emphasizing the importance of starting children off on the path towards healthy adult lives.
He suggested better dietary habits like more fruits and vegetable and less processed foods, incorporated with daily exercise and playtime and decreased time spent on video games and television.
“If you start children out young doing this, they will continue to have that mind set as they grow into adults, and hence, obesity and even cancer deaths should decline,” he said.
He suggested quitting smoking as a catalyst for adults towards healthier living.
“If we can get more people to quit smoking, the positive results in terms of healthcare would be exponential,” said Crawford. “First, people would be healthier, in turn, they would have more money to eat healthier, and it would also relieve a huge financial burden on the healthcare system as a whole. Everyone wins when we help people quit smoking.”
Cigarette smoking has been on decline nationally, as well as in Tennessee, but not enough to keep it out of the top five smokiest states. Though the number of smokers has fluctuated, 24.2 percent of Tennesseeans reported being smokers in 2015. This ranked Tennessee at 47, followed closely by Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia.
States in the southeast ranked lower than most nationwide in a variety of areas, but perhaps good news to these residents is the availability of outdoor recreation right in their backyards.
With increasing recreational infrastructure and a growing interest in natural resources, physical inactivity in Tennessee has shown a 28 percent decrease over the last year. Just over a quarter of the population reports leading sedentary lifestyles, but that trend appears to be on decline.
Elizabethton Director of Parks and Recreation Mike Mains suggested activities for residents to do right at home.
“We live in one of the most beautiful locations in the country, and with our walking trails, linear path, Tweetsie Trail and numerous parks with walking trails, citizens have a variety of locations to be active in,” he said.
He noted the importance of recreation for community building and personal development.
“If you think about going out and doing something you enjoy, whether it’s fishing, going to a minor league baseball game, playing league volleyball or basketball, or jogging, any of these things will relieve stress in life and that’s why you see more and more cities focusing on investing resources in recreation,” said Mains.
Additionally, the Appalachian Trail, Roan Mountain State Park, Watauga River and nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park offer venues for hiking, biking, bird-watching, swimming, fishing, back-country photography, camping and other activities that improve mental and physical health.
“Recreation is a way of life,” said Mains.