Tennessee has shown marked improvements in 12 measures of overall health in the last five years, according to a newly released report, but with a ranking of 48th in sedentary lifestyle among all states, most Tennesseans need to “get moving” to make more progress. The United Health Foundation’s 23rd annual America’s Health Rankings report lists Tennessee at 39th overall this year. The state moved up two spots from a recalculated 41st in 2011 in the foundation’s evaluation and measures of how states perform in different categories.
“While we certainly celebrate our improvements and positive trends in many areas, we also need to admit being ranked 39th overall is not going to put Tennessee on the short list as a better place to live or create new jobs; we have to be better,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “We need to get moving to continue to improve the health of all people in Tennessee. Our state’s high ranking for sedentary lifestyle is linked to many other measurements in the report that shorten lives including diabetes, heart disease, tobacco use, obesity, some cancers and poor physical health days.”
Tennessee did show significant improvements in the rankings over a five-year period. During the last half-decade Tennessee moved out of the bottom ten in four measures: smoking, obesity, high school graduation rates and infectious diseases. The state also recorded statistically significant improvements in the areas of infant mortality, low infant birth weight, preventable hospitalizations, cardiovascular deaths, cancer deaths, air pollution, occupational fatalities and violent crime.
“This report tells us one of the most important prescriptions for Tennessee is to embrace a more active, healthful lifestyle,” Dreyzehner said. “We have a state rich in scenic beauty, wonderful state parks and incredible opportunities to enjoy time with friends and family by just getting out there and being active.”
In addition to the low ranking for sedentary lifestyle, Tennessee was rated 35th for obesity and 44th for the closely related prevalence of diabetes. The data also show, despite improvements
over the past five years, some 11.2 percent of the state’s adult population has been diagnosed with diabetes, compared with 9.5 percent nationally.
Data used by the foundation, obtained from the TDH Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show one in four Tennesseans, approximately 1.4 million people, are obese. Sedentary behavior, classified as not doing any physical activity outside of the workplace for 30 days, is the trend for 26.2 percent of those in the United States. Tennessee’s rate, 35 percent, is on par with Mississippi and West Virginia as being the lowest in the nation.
“With the New Year fast approaching, now would be a good time to think about increased physical activity and cutting out or reducing sugary drinks as your resolutions for 2013,” Dreyzehner said. "Cutting back one sugary drink a day can lead to pounds a year, so consider switching to diet drinks or even better, water or unsweetened beverages.
“Too many of us think anything less than rigorous workouts won’t make a difference but that's just not true; even moderate physical activity, like efforts to take the stairs or walking is effective primary prevention for a host of preventable diseases like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even some cancers. Starting slowly and building on more moderate exercise can provide huge benefits affecting your heart and circulatory system, your respiratory system, digestive functions and help with musculoskeletal issues, thinking and even mood.”
Those who have existing health problems and aren’t sure how to begin should talk with their doctors. A physician can evaluate what is best and can suggest a tailored program to address an individual’s unique health issues, discussing both exercise and calories.
“Your doctor would much rather discuss a simple walking program to get you started than write another insulin prescription,” Dreyzehner said. “Every clinician knows the value of physical activity and how calories in are important but calories out even more so. Understanding how small steps can lead to bigger ones can dramatically change a person’s life.
“The Tennessee Department of Health has a vision for our state to be in the top ten healthiest in the nation. A key strategy is to promote increased activity and reduce the many problems associated with sedentary living that rob all of us of friends and family members who suffer and die early. None of these data points are fixed; we can do better, and we must.”