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Obesity and opioid use pushing death rates up: study


Woman running outdoors - Young sportive girl jogging at sunset on Brooklyn Bridge, close up on shoes (iStockphoto)

Increased obesity rates, opioid use and suicide are driving up the premature-death rate in this country, a new report has found.

Obesity in the United States went up 5% over the past year; one in three adults are obese today, the highest the rate has ever been.

“Obesity continues to be a leading cause of cardiovascular disease and cancer – chronic diseases that are contributing to premature death rates,” says the 29th edition of America’s Health Rankings Annual Report, published by the United Health Foundation.

“This year’s Annual Reportspotlights an obesity problem that continues to grow. This means more people will likely develop obesity-related chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare National Markets, and an adviser to America’s Health Rankings, in a statement. “We encourage health professionals, public health officials and elected leaders to use these findings to explore opportunities to better support people in their communities in all aspects of their health.”

Hawaii regained its spot as the healthiest state in the nation, regaining its top spot after having fallen to number two last year, supplanted by Massachusetts, which came in second this year.

New York State is the 10th healthiest in the nation. Back when the America’s Health Rankings annual report was first published, in 1990, New York was number 40. For this reason it marked “the greatest improvement of any state.”

New York also saw an increase in the number of primary care physicians, along with Vermont, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The unhealthiest state in the Union is Louisiana, which was deemed one of five states “with greatest opportunities for improvement” along with Mississippi (ranked 49), Alabama (48), Oklahoma (47) and Arkansas (46).

The unhealthy indicators were characterized by a preponderance of obesity and opioid use. Twenty-three states have seen an increase in obesity prevalence, though New York was among the smallest increases, rising just 1.2 percentage points.

“Obesity prevalence has not decreased in any state since 2012,” the study found.

New York was the healthiest state in the occupational fatality measure, with 2.5 deaths per 100,000 workers as compared to Wyoming, the highest, which had 12.5 deaths per 100,000. The Empire State also showed a marked decrease in cancer deaths per 100,000 people, dropping by 27.9 deaths per 100,000.

The cardiovascular death rate remained troubling, having risen for the past three years. And more than 30 states have experienced an increase or no decrease in the rate of cancer deaths, with just 19 states seeing significant decreases, the report said.

All these factors contributed to a rising premature death rate, calculated as the number of years lost before age 75.

“This rate increased for the fourth straight year, driven by suicide and drug deaths, with 7,432 years lost per 100,000 people this year,” the report said. “Drug deaths and occupational fatalities have also increased recently, with drug deaths jumping 25 percent and occupational fatalities increasing by 19 percent in the past three years.”

While the largest portion of occupational fatalities occurred in “transportation incidents,” the report said, “the greatest increase in the past year has been workplace violence.”

Suicide and mental distress are big contributors to the decline in overall health, with the suicide rate 16% higher than it was in 2012, the report said. In addition, more and more adults are reporting declining physical health.

On the upside, an overall decrease in child poverty and an increase in the number of health care practitioners were bright spots in the findings.