How Healthy is Nevada?

Here’s the bad news. When it comes to overall health, Nevada ranks in the lower half among all 50 states.

That’s according to the 24th annual America’s Health Rankings from United Health Foundation. The report, the longest running of its kind in the country, placed Nevada No. 37 among all 50 states for overall heath, which is the same ranking the state received last year. Here’s a snapshot of how Nevada fared in this year’s report:

Nevada’s Strengths

  • Low prevalence of binge drinking
  • Moderate prevalence of diabetes
  • Low incidence of infectious diseases

Nevada’s Challenges

  • Low high school graduation rate
  • High violent crime rate
  • Low per capita public health funding

The good news is that Nevada residents are getting some things right. In 1990, approximately 36 percent of the population smoked compared to 18.1 percent in 2013. In the past year alone, the prevalence of smoking decreased from 22.9 to 18.1 percent of adults. Across the country, seventeen states had significant drops in smoking, with the largest seen in Nevada, Maryland, Oklahoma, Kansas and Vermont. In addition to the decrease in smoking, the prevalence of binge drinking decreased from 18.6 to 15.1 percent of adults.

A number of smoking cessation programs across the state have no doubt helped to decrease the prevalence of smoking, including, the Nevada Tobacco Users Helpline (Helpline), a division of the University Of Nevada School Of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, which provides free and confidential telephone-based counseling for Nevada residents who want to address their tobacco use. For teens, Not On Tobacco (N-O-T) is the American Lung Association’s (ALA’s) voluntary program for teens who want to quit smoking. It is the most researched, most widely used and most successful such program in the United States.

Cardiovascular health has also improved in the state. In the past 10 years, the rate of cardiovascular deaths decreased by 25 percent from 340.0 to 271.9 deaths per 100,000 population. The state has also seen a decrease in the rate of preventable hospitalizations which decreased from 65.3 to 57.3 discharges for every 1,000 Medicare enrollees.

While it’s important to take a moment to applaud these successes, continued progress cannot be taken for granted. Significant challenges remain.

At 26.2 percent of adults, the prevalence of obesity is lower in Nevada than the median state; however, more than 560,000 adults are obese in the state. Obesity, especially childhood obesity, continues to be a major health crisis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity rates continue to rise especially for young people in Nevada.

Among Nevada’s adolescents in grades 9 through 12

  • 13.4 percent were overweight (≥ 85th and < 95th percentiles for BMI by age and sex)
  • 11.0 percent were obese (≥95th percentile BMI by age and sex)

Among Nevada’s children aged 2 years to less than 5 years

  • 14.6 percent were overweight (85th to < 95th percentile BMI-for-Age)
  • 13.6 percent were obese (≥ 95th percentile BMI-for-Age)

Other challenges impacting the state include high rate of individuals without insurance. In the past five years, the percentage of uninsured populations increased from 18.4 percent to 23.0 percent of the populations. The rate of children in poverty has increased from 9.1 percent to 22.7 percent of persons younger than 18 years.

Efforts have been ongoing statewide on behalf of the public and private sectors to reverse dangerous health trends, such as the prevalence of binge drinking, smoking, immunization coverage and improving our overall health outcomes, such as reducing infant mortality and cancer deaths.

Hundreds of programs across the U.S. aimed at fighting diseases and improving care are helping increase the overall health of Nevada residents. Together, Nevadan’s can break down barriers to high-quality care. The state can take on obesity as it took on smoking. Nevadans can win. It will take work, certainly, and time, but the health of Nevada is worth that effort.

Laurine Tibaldi, MD is chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare of Nevada