Updated April 24 at 4:45pm

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health care

R.I. ranks No. 10 among the healthiest states; binge drinking a problem

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PROVIDENCE – Rhode Islanders are among the healthiest people in the nation, ranking No. 10 out of the 50 states for the third consecutive year, according to the America’s Health Rankings released by the UnitedHealth Foundation on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, binge drinking is a problem for the Ocean State (17.9 percent of the population) along with a high percentage of children in poverty (22.2 percent of the under-18 population) and a high rate of preventable hospitalizations (74.1 discharges per 1,000 Medicare enrollees).

The prevalence of binge drinking in Rhode Island, 41st in the nation, improved slightly from the 2009 ranking of 42nd. The lowest prevalence of binge drinking in the nation was 8.6 percent.

Rhode Island’s forte is smoking, ranking No. 5 in the nation, at 15.0 percent of the population. The measure improved dramatically from the 2009 score, at 16th and 17.3 percent of the population.

The ready availability of primary care physicians and high per capita public health funding were also flagged as local strengths, according to the 21-year ranking.

Vermont residents were the nation’s healthiest for the second year in a row, while Mississippians took the bottom spot with high rates of: obesity, childhood poverty, low high school graduation rates, limited availability of primary care physicians and preventable hospitalization. Mississippi has ranked in the bottom three since 1990, and it is the state’s ninth-consecutive last place finish.

Many New England states ranked highly, with Massachusetts at No. 2, New Hampshire at No. 3 and Connecticut No. 4. Maine came in slightly ahead of Rhode Island at No. 8.

“The persistent year after year increase in obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes and other risk factors, combined with a still unacceptably high use of tobacco, means an increased burden of chronic illness, including diabetes, with medical care costs that will be unaffordable for any state, private employer, or individual in the days to come,” said Dr. Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs at UnitedHealth Group.

“States are showing that we can successfully deal with health issues, but only by tackling those issues head on,” he added. The nation’s overall health improved one percentage point from a year earlier.

Rhode Island’s “most significant” changes included declines in preventable hospitalizations, prevalence of smoking, and incidence of infectious disease. The prevalence of obesity, however, increased to 24.9 percent from 11.1 percent from 1990 to 2010.

The good news for local residents, however, is that the Rhode Island ranks higher for determinants - such as diet, exercise and keeping immunizations up to date - than outcomes, indicating that overall healthiness should improve over time.

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