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Improved, but still not good enough

December 30, 2011
The Inter-Mountain

West Virginians may be tempted to congratulate themselves on receiving the highest mark yet in the United Health Foundation's annual state health rankings - 41st. And it is true, the state has made some important improvements that raised it two notches in the overall rankings from 2010. The data show an increase in the percentage of children receiving immunizations made the difference.

And, for the second year in a row, West Virginia was the best in the country in the category of low reported infectious-disease incidents.

But the truth is our state continues to perform dismally when it comes to the health problems that have plagued residents for decades. In fact, the state ranks fourth in public-health spending, paying out $144.45 per person annually.

Part of the reason for such a high figure is West Virginia's last-place spot - worst in the nation - for smoking. Nearly 27 percent of residents smoke cigarettes. One-third are obese (ranked 48th). Nearly 12 percent of the population has diabetes (ranked 48th), and only 67 percent of the population reports being physically active (ranked 49th).

West Virginia spends more than $7 million in tobacco prevention each year. That is a huge sum of money. But, as is proved year after year in surveys like these, throwing money at a problem will not solve it.

Those receiving public money for their health care should be encouraged as strongly as possible to take responsibility for improving their own health, and reducing that fourth-ranked payout.

Once again, the improvements that have dragged West Virginia up from its overall 49th ranking 20 years ago are commendable and must continue. But residents might not be able to wait for politicians and bureaucrats to come up with an effective plan for the money that was meant to help them get healthy.

If Mountain State residents want to do something good for themselves and pull the state out of the depths of surveys like the one from the United Health Foundation, we will have to, as we always have, do it ourselves.



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