Aging in health: The five best states for seniors

Minnesota tops the list; Mississippi brings up the rear

Minnesota is the healthiest place to grow old in the United States, while several Southern states face uphill battles to improve the health of their elderly populations, according to a report by the United Health Foundation (UHF).

The inaugural state-by-state analysis of senior health culls data from federal agencies and private sources to assess each state's performance on 34 separate measures, including physical inactivity, obesity, self-reported health status, drug coverage, hospital readmissions, and vaccination rates.

According to the report, the five healthiest states for Americans ages 65 and over are:

    1. Minnesota
    2. Vermont
    3. New Hampshire
    4. Massachusetts
    5. Iowa.

Meanwhile, the five unhealthiest states for seniors are:

    1. Mississippi
    2. Oklahoma
    3. Louisiana
    4. West Virginia
    5. Arkansas.

According to the report, Minnesota's top ranking reflects a large number of seniors who report being in very good or excellent health, high rates of drug coverage, a relatively high availability of home health care workers, and a low rate of hospitalization for hip fractures. However, Minnesota suffers from a high rate of chronic drinking and low per-person expenditures on assistance for low-income seniors.

By contrast, Mississippi's low ranking is the result of a high percentage of seniors who live in poverty, a high rate of premature death, a low number of seniors who report being in very good or excellent health, and a low rate of annual dental visits. The Southern state did score well for a low prevalence of chronic drinking and a high rate of flu shots, however.

Report IDs 'sobering' senior health trends

Overall, the report found that:

  • Nearly 80% of seniors have been diagnosed with at least one chronic illness;
  • About 50% of the senior population has two or more chronic conditions;
  • Only 38.4% of seniors rated their health as very good or excellent;
  • 25.3% of seniors are obese; and
  • 30.3% of seniors in fair or better health report low levels of physical activity.

Rhonda Randall, a senior adviser at UHF, notes that seniors today "are more likely to live longer than their parents and grandparents, and much more likely to live sicker for a longer period of time." As the nation rapidly ages, seniors are expected to increase spending in the Medicare program from $557 billion in 2013 to more than $1 trillion in 2023, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Randall says the report foreshadows the increasing burden of chronic disease that will have severe economic consequences and affect seniors' overall well-being. "This is a really important time in our nation's history for us to take a look at this demographic change and the health and behavior outcomes for this population. If we don't measure it, we won't know what to do about it," she says (Graham, Kaiser Health News, 5/29; Healy, USA Today, 5/28; Pugh, McClatchy/Miami Herald, 5/29).

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