Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pennsylvania is 29th healthiest state

We often hear bad news about health: rising rates of obesity, rising rates of diabetes, rising rates of heart disease, and much more.

But what about the good news?  Are any of the current health initiatives that aim to improve the health of Americans working?  Are there any areas of health that need more attention? Let's take a look.

This week, the United Health Foundation in conjunction with the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention published their 2013 health report, titled America’s Health Rankings®: A Call to Action for Individuals & Their Communities.

This year’s study found that the nation as a whole is making considerable progress in their overall health. The most notable gains came in key behavioral measures, including smoking, physical activity and obesity.  Overall, Hawaii is the healthiest state, while Mississippi ranked 50th.

As it has for the past two decades, Pennsylvania came in just below the average among all states, ranking 29th this year with several strengths and challenges.

Pennsylvania’s Strengths
  • Pennsylvania has a high rate of high school graduation with 84.1 percent of incoming ninth graders graduating from high school.  Higher levels of education are associated with better health. For example, 55 percent of adult Pennsylvanians aged 55 years and older with at least a high school education report that their health is very good or excellent compared to only 27.5 percent with less than a high school education.
  • In the past year, physical inactivity decreased from 26.2 percent to 23.4 percent of adults, although 2.3 million Pennsylvanians are still inactive.
  • Immunization coverage among adolescents increased in the past year from 68.6 percent to 74.1 percent of persons aged 13 to 17 years.  Pennsylvania’s immunization rate of adolescents is among the highest in the nation, ranking third among the states.
  • The number of smokers decreased nearly 5 percent in the past year.  More than 21.4 percent of adults in Pennsylvania are still smokers, however.
Pennsylvania’s Challenges
  • While the average obesity rate nationwide held steady at 27.6 percent in the last year, obesity in Pennsylvania increased from 28.6 percent to 29.1 percent of adults in one year.
  • Pennsylvania has one of the highest levels of pollution of any state and is ranked 47th for air quality.
  • More than 15 out of every 100,000 Pennsylvanians die from drug-related causes, the 38th worst rate of drug deaths in the nation.
This report is important to Pennsylvania in that it shows how the state and the people who work in health care within the state are working collaboratively to help people across the Commonwealth live healthier lives.

To see the Rankings in full, please visit:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thanksgiving started with a trot

Even in the cold weather, what better way to start off Thanksgiving morning than with a little outdoor exercise before the feast?

While this may not be your idea of fun, this is exactly what some UnitedHealthcare employees and their families did.  They joined more than 7,000 people who participated in the 23rd Annual YMCA Turkey Trot in downtown Pittsburgh.  The YMCA Turkey Trot included 5-mile and 5K races and a 1-mile fun run. 

UnitedHealthcare employees and their families got together for a photo with Y of Greater Pittsburgh CEO Rig Riggins (second from right) and Senior Vice President of Development Carolyn Grady (far right) before the YMCA Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day

The race benefitted the Y of Greater Pittsburgh’s urban branches. The funds help to ensure that all members of the community can participate in Y programs, regardless of income.  The Y also collected nonperishable food items in its 1,000 pound challenge to support its food bank at its branch in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Turkey trots are about more than just burning off a few extra calories to offset the extra helpings of turkey, stuffing and pie.  They are also an excellent reminder to all of us to be thankful for what we have, including our health.

During the holiday season, it’s easy to get carried away by the endless list of things that we need to do. Between the shopping, decorating, cooking and cleaning, plus the holiday parties and family gatherings, it’s easy to put health on the back burner.

But I urge everyone to make health a priority this holiday season.

Taking the time from our busy schedules to cook a healthy meal and get some exercise can provide tremendous physical and mental benefits.  Not only does a regular routine of exercise and good nutrition prevent holiday weight gain, but it also contributes to good mental health.  Many studies have shown that exercise can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, which many people experience during the holiday season.

I’m not suggesting that anyone forego making cookies with the family this year or skip out on holiday parties.  But perhaps instead of watching the football game on TV, it might be a good time to start a tradition of playing a game in the backyard or the park. And making sure that piece of pie is balanced with plenty of fruits and vegetables can go a long way toward feeling physically and mentally better this holiday season. 

I hope all of my readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and are beginning a happy and healthy holiday season!