Why can’t Ohio be like Vermont? For the sixth year straight, Vermont has come out tops in America’s Health Rankings, an annual report sponsored by the nonprofit United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention. Ohio ranked 35th in the national health check this year. The rank is better than last year’s 36th position, certainly, but still far from striking distance of No. 1 or even the state’s 25th rank in 2006.
Ohio is doing relatively well in protecting against occupational hazards, ranking 10th on that measure. Encouraging, too, is its rank on immunization coverage (13) and low geographic disparity (14). But what the survey makes clear is that on many important measures, Ohio is not gaining quickly enough in health improvements.
The survey ranks the state among the bottom 10 on several of the 24 health indicators used for the report, including smoking (43), air pollution (47), infectious diseases(43), public health funding (43), infant mortality (42), preventable hospitalizations (42), cancer deaths (43) and heart diseases (41). The state’s showing is only slightly better on other indicators, such as obesity (38), low birth weight (34) and diabetes (30). In addition, too many Ohioans sit around too much, the state ranking 35 on the sedentary lifestyle measure.
Especially disheartening is the regression during the past few years on policies regarding smoking and tobacco use. The report indicates that one-quarter of adults in Ohio smoke, a habit linked to a variety of serious illnesses that cost families, employers and the state tens of millions of dollars a year. Despite the roughly $1.1 billion in revenues generated from tobacco products, the Statehouse has drained smoking cessation and prevention progams of all state funding. It is disappointing that Ohio is one of only four states that has not committed any of its own funds to combat tobacco use and the influence of a powerful industry.
Ohioans are living longer, and the cost of health care continues to climb. More than ever, a healthy population is an asset. Any improvement in health status thus works in the best interest of individual residents and of the state as a whole.