Minnesota ranks at the top of a list of the nation’s healthiest states in a report released Monday.

The state again capped an annual list of health measures put out by several nonprofit groups, which measure infant mortality and obesity rates, numbers of the uninsured, and other health factors.

The report continued a streak for the North Star State, which has ranked first for 10 of the report’s 16 years. However, experts warned that nationwide health obesity and smoking continue to place a drag on slowing nationwide health improvements.

Minnesotaplaced first among the states because of a low cardiovascular death rate, low overall premature death rates, and lower-than-average numbers of children in poverty. Vermont, New Hampshire, Utah, and Hawaii followed in the rankings.

Meanwhile, five Southern states continued to score as the nation’s least healthy. Mississippi ranked at the bottom, followed by Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, and South Carolina. Those states continue to see high rates of obesity, smoking, poverty, and persons lacking health insurance, according to the report.

Obesity 'Report Card' for States Released

National Trends Slowing

Advocates say they are encouraged by several improving trends, including a dropping teen birth rate, lower rates of infectious diseases, and lower incidences of violent crime nationwide.

But those improvements are being largely eclipsed by rising obesity and continued high rates of smoking, they warned. Although there was a slight decrease in smoking prevalence from 22 percent in 2004 to 20.8 percent in 2005, there were no significant changes between 1993 and 2003.

At the same time, nationwide obesity rates have more than doubled since 1990 and now top 23 percent, according to the report.

“We are stagnating now,” says Reed Tuckson, MD, vice president of United Health Foundation, one of the groups releasing the report. “We’ve made very little progress in improving the healthiness of the nation since 2000.”

The study warns that the U.S. continues to lag behind other nations in several basic health measures. Americans born today can expect to live just over 69 years free of serious disease, a ranking that puts it behind 27 other nations, the report states. Japan’s disease-free life expectancy, the world’s best, is more than 75 years, it states.

The CDC issued a report last week stating that a baby born in the U.S. 2003 has a life expectancy of 77.6 years. The CDC report also states that smoking in the U.S. is declining, but not as quickly as in the past.

While the infant mortality rate has improved over the last decade, babies born in the U.S. are still more likely to die in their first year of life than are babies in Italy, the Czech Republic, and Cuba. Hong Kong’s infant mortality rate of 2.3 per 1,000 live births is nearly three times better than the United States’, according to the report.

The report, released by the American Public Health Association, the United Health Foundation, and other groups, calls for increased investments in public health, legislation to reduce the 46 million Americans lacking health insurance, and stricter clean air and taxation laws to discourage smoking.

“We all believe we can do better,” says Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

U.S. Death Trends Are Shifting

By Todd Zwillich, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: America’s Health Rankings 2005 Edition, United Health Foundation, Dec. 12, 2005. Reed Tuckson, MD, vice president, United Health Foundation. Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director, American Public Health Association. WebMD Medical News: "U.S. Life Expectancy Hits Record High."