Is it the maple syrup, the brilliant fall foliage, or those ever-lovin’ teddy bears? Vermont’s been named the healthiest state in the union, due to a complex interplay of social, political, clinical, and behavioral factors.

Vermont may have improved its health profile, but speaking top-line, the overall health of the US declined over the past year. While progress has been made in reducing cancers and deaths from heart disease, we’ve miles to go when it comes to obesity, healthy risk behaviors (especially tobacco use and violent crimes), growing uninsured population, and childhood poverty.

The 18th annual report on the state of the states’ health has been published in America’s Health Rankings: A Call to Action for People & Their Communities. The report is sponsored by America’s Health Rankings has brought together United Health Foundation, the Partnership for Prevention, and the American Public Health Association.

The report’s researchers reviewed the 50 states on multiple measures based on the construct shown on the left. Personal behaviors include smoking, binge drinking, obesity, and graduating from high school. Community environment covers crime, occupational fatalities, infectious disease, and children in poverty. For public policy, the researchers considered lack of health insurance, per capita public health spending, and immunization coverage. Finally, health services measures consider adequacy of prenatal care, primary care physicians, and preventable hospitalizations.

After taking these factors into account, the report finds the five healthiest states are: Vermont, Minnesota, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. Is there a New England bias? Then again, surfers among us can migrate to Hawaii, and the snow bunnies to Minnesota.

At the bottom are: Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Top-line successes should be noted: infectious disease rates, infant mortality, occupational fatalities, immunization coverage, prenatal care, and the prevalence of smoking have shown substantial improvements since 1990.

However, there remain significant challenges in the areas of obesity, lack of health insurance, poor mental health days, and poor physical health days.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:
I highly recommend that you visit this report and dig through the details, both in terms of particular states in which you’re interested as well as the rich appendix containing essays by key stakeholder organizations. This report recognizes that improving health outcomes in the U.S. won’t come from some Grand Unified Theory. Rather, we get to be a healthier nation through a combination of education, public health measures, health system improvements, and — as important as any of these — getting over our collective Super-Sized relationship with food.