Missouri ranks 3rd, Arkansas 5th on list of country’s most unhealthy states

A company that used data from the CDC put together the list in which Missouri was ranked 3rd...
A company that used data from the CDC put together the list in which Missouri was ranked 3rd and Arkansas 5th among the nation's most unhealthy states. Louisiana was 1st.(KY3)
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 7:05 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Whether it’s which state has the worst crime rate or the best housing market, the outcome is open to interpretation depending on the data chosen and how it’s used in the process.

But using information available from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the company MedicalAid.com looked at the rates of unhealthy habits using alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking, obesity levels, and STD rates to come up with a list of the most unhealthy states in the U.S. with Missouri coming in 3rd and Arkansas 5th.

Louisiana was the most unhealthy state, followed by South Dakota, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Ohio, Alabama, Indiana, and South Carolina.

MedicalAid.com’s take on Missouri:

“While Missouri didn’t have the highest score in any one factor, all of the bad habits we looked at were more common here than in the majority of other states. Missouri had the 10th highest rates of cigarette smoking and obesity, while also having the 11th highest rate of physical inactivity.”

According to the CDC, the study explained that if your body mass index (BMI) is 30.0 or higher, you classify as clinically obese. Being obese puts you at a heightened risk of various conditions and ailments, such as heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, while also being shown to negatively impact mental health.

Smoking contributes to 480,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. Tobacco-related diseases cost more than $300 million annually in medical care and lost productivity nationwide, and in the Springfield area, it costs employers more than $222,000 annually.

The CDC defines binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four or more for women. The CDC states that excessive binge drinking is one example of an increased risk of injuries, chronic diseases such as liver disease and heart disease, several cancers, and poor pregnancy outcomes.

The obesity problem is certainly not unique to Missouri and Arkansas. The MedicalAid.com study also put together world rankings, and the U.S. had the highest rate of obesity (36.2 percent) of any country. The U.S. ranked fourth in overall unhealthy habits behind Bulgaria, Latvia, and Argentina.

You can look at the full study of the U.S. and world results at medicalaid.com/unhealthy-habits/

“We use our own Community Needs Assessment study to determine what our priorities should be,” said Jon Mooney, the Assistant Director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, in explaining what local officials use in prioritizing what issues need to be addressed. “We do that every couple of years in conjunction with the local hospitals. So our three areas to prioritize are our mental health, substance use disorder, and diabetes.”

Mooney added that the MedicalAid.com study points out major contributing factors to bad health in Missouri and that the best way to counteract those factors is by “focusing upstream,” as in trying to keep people from taking up those bad habits in the first place.

“With smoking, for instance, it’s how can we get more education in schools about tobacco use, especially with vaping,” he said. “Having Tobacco 21 to raise the legal age to 21 helps young people to never begin smoking. So those are upstream approaches that we’ve taken.”

The problem is that while federal law requires someone to be at least 21 to buy tobacco products, Missouri’s minimum age to buy tobacco products is still 18. And in states with the 21-year-old minimum, studies have shown a 25 percent decrease in tobacco use among 15-17 year-olds and a 15 percent decrease among 18-20 year-olds.

The increase in the number of obese people has been going on for years, but what is most alarming is the number of children who now fit in that category.

“It’s no surprise that our country, state, and community all face higher obesity rates than we did ten or 15 years ago,” Mooney said. “But once again, our focus is on trying to prevent that.”

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department’s “upstream” approach, in this case, includes establishing the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program that supports the nutritional health of pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding people as well as their infants and children up to the age of five.

“WIC is an educational-based program that partners with young families to help give them a healthy start to their family,” Mooney said. “We want to help make sure there are great dietary habits in their home as well as lots of education. And we plug them into community resources as well.”

While a lot of resources are put into the “upstream” approach of educating youngsters before they start bad habits, Mooney pointed out that adults need to understand that it’s never too late to make changes in unhealthy lifestyles and that it will make a difference.

“There’s still a lot of things that can be done like being more active, having a healthier diet, and using the health care available to you,” Mooney explained. “There’s a lot that can be managed with the appropriate care from a physician. You can take a step-wise approach. It doesn’t have to be all at once. There are small changes that yield big results.”

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