Senior Health by State

Minnesota is known for many things, including its "10,000 lakes," industrial anchors, and a colorfully approachable regional accent, just like in Fargo.

Besides leading the nation in levels of regular physical exercise, the state also has the healthiest senior population, according to the America’s Health Rating Senior Report, a first-ever examination of senior health by state, compiled by the United Health Foundation. 

The report provides a qualitative and quantitative look at a growing elderly population. The Baby Boomer generation is now reaching retirement age, and is projected to increase the senior population 50 percent by 2030.

United Health Foundation found that 80 percent of American seniors have at least one chronic illness, while half have two or more, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

“States with healthy seniors have a combination of positive personal behaviors and community support, which demonstrate that improving senior health will only come about by acting on individual, family, community, and state levels,” Dr. Reed Tuckson, United Health Foundation's senior adviser, said in a press release.

Minnesota Is the Healthiest State, Mississippi the Worst

The “Minnesota nice” mentality may help seniors' health, but the report attributes their well being to a large percentage of seniors who regularly see a dentist, a high incidence of regular exercise, quality healthcare coverage, and good in-home care, including the Elderly Waiver Program, which helps people over the age of 65 who need nursing home-style care but choose to live in the community.  

Behind Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Iowa are the healthiest states for seniors.

Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Arkansas were rated the lowest across all measures of senior health.

A large percentage of Mississippi's seniors live in poverty, and many routinely go hungry, which is why the state was ranked last in the country. However, despite few regular dental visits for seniors, the Magnolia State does have a low rate of chronic drinking and a high rate of flu vaccinations.

At more than 13 percent, Mississippi leads the nation in the number of seniors living below the poverty line, while Alaskan seniors are the best off, with only five percent living in poverty.

Chronic Illness, Activity Levels, and Obesity

Picturesque landscapes filled with snow-capped mountains and crystal clear air must do something for a person’s health because Alaska, Wyoming, and Montana have the lowest rates of chronic disease, with less than 25 percent of those states’ seniors suffering from multiple chronic conditions. 

Florida and New Jersey, however, lead that demographic with more than 40 percent of seniors coping with two or more chronic diseases.

California and Colorado seniors are the most physically active, with nearly 80 percent of seniors in "fair" or better health reporting regular exercise. Tennessee and West Virginia seniors tend to stick to their rockers on the porch, and more than 40 percent report being inactive.

Seniors in Hawaii must be worried about how they'll look in their bathing suits, because they have the lowest rate of obesity at less than 17 percent, while Alaskans and Michiganders may need a few extra pounds to stay warm in the winter. Nearly 30 percent of seniors there are obese.

“Chronic illness is unnecessarily high among seniors,” Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, said in a press release. “The coordination of care for seniors, particularly the 50 percent of the population with multiple chronic illnesses, is complex and increases pressure on our country’s caregivers and our health care system.”

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