The United Health Foundation has released its 28th annual “America’s Health Rankings” report, in which it grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia by a wide variety of health-related measures, including obesity, smoking, air pollution and child poverty.

Wisconsin dropped to 20th place in the 2017 rankings, one notch lower than in 2016.

The report says Wisconsin’s key strengths are a low percentage of uninsured residents, a high percentage of high school graduations, and low prevalence of physical inactivity.

The state’s major “challenges” are a high prevalence of excessive alcohol drinking, a high incidence of whooping cough (pertussis) and low per capita public health funding.

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First place went — for the first time — to Massachusetts.  Also “beating” us were Hawaii, Vermont, Utah and Connecticut.

Last place — for the second time — went to Mississippi, followed by Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and West Virginia.

In nearby states, Minnesota ranked sixth, two spots lower than the previous year. Wisconsin’s other neighbors came in at 15th (Iowa), 27th (Illinois) and 35th (Michigan).

The good and the bad

The report emphasizes a recent overall national health trend that is highly troubling. After declining by 20 percent between 1990 and 2015, the nation’s premature death rate — the number of years lost before age 75 — increased for the third straight year, and is now up 3 percent since 2015.

Some of that increase is driven by a 2 percent rise in cardiovascular deaths during that period — a rise that follows a 25-year pattern of continuously decreasing cardiovascular deaths. But an even bigger factor is the current opioid epidemic. Drug-related deaths jumped 7 percent in the past year alone. It’s now at 15 deaths per 100,000 people — a new high.

As the report notes, the United States ranks 27th in life expectancy among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

“Results show the U.S. has a higher infant mortality rate, a higher prevalence of obesity and a lower life expectancy at birth compared with most OECD member countries,” the report says. “Even the top U.S. state in each of these measures ranks toward the bottom among OECD countries.”

Yet the U.S. spends significantly more on health care — both per person and relative to its wealth — than other nations.

The other worrying trend highlighted in this year’s report is the uneven geographical distribution of key health care providers, including mental health providers. Some states have six times the number of mental health providers as other states, the report points out. Massachusetts, for example, has 547 mental health providers per 100,000 people, while Alabama has 85 per 100,000.

Other notable findings for Wisconsin in the report:

  • In the past year, diabetes increased 17% from 8.4% to 9.8% of adults
  • In the past two years, excessive drinking increased 12% from 23.3% to 26.2% of adults
  • In the past five years, the percentage uninsured decreased 44% from 9.9% to 5.5% of the population
  • In the past eight years, air pollution decreased 35% from 11.3 to 7.4 micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter
  • In the past 10 years, drug deaths increased 89% from 8.0 to 15.1 deaths per 100,000 population

Find the full report on the United Health Foundation’s website.