Tennessee again makes strides in U.S. health rankings
JOHNSON CITY – Tennessee continues to receive encouraging news about its overall health, according to a report released today that assigned a numerical ranking to all 50 states.
Though Tennessee stands at No. 39 in the 2012 edition of "America's Health Rankings" – the same as last year – a number of indicators that helped determine the overall ranking are reason for the state's residents to take heart. Each December, there is great anticipation in particular at the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health, which regards the rankings as a barometer to gauge whether the state is moving ahead or slipping back.
Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the ETSU College of Public Health, said Tennessee clearly has forward momentum. He said one of the most encouraging markers is the Volunteer State's high school graduation rate, which is the nation's 24th best.
"For the first time since United Health Foundation began compiling this record, our state is now above the national average in terms of high school graduation rate, which bodes well for the future of Tennessee," Wykoff said. "As recently as 2005, we were 47th for the percentage of students who graduate."
United Health Foundation began reporting "America's Health Rankings" in 1990. The organization collates a wide spectrum of data points for such things obesity, childhood immunizations, primary care physicians per capita and public health funding.
Another positive indicator for Tennessee's future, Wykoff said, is the ranking for health determinants. Health determinants are the behaviors, social factors and related activities that reflect what people are doing to be healthier. In this area, Tennessee has improved to 35th. Health outcomes, which measure the state's illness and death rates, tend to reflect health behaviors from years past and, therefore, lag behind determinants. Tennessee currently ranks 42nd for health outcomes, so Wykoff said it stands to reason that, over time, outcomes will catch up and improve the state's overall ranking.
ETSU has become well-known for the button pins that the College of Public Health produces each year in conjunction with the rankings. Wykoff knows them so well that he can rattle off where Tennessee has landed from 2005 through 2012: "48, 47, 46, 47, 44, 42, 39, 39," Wykoff said.
The college has given away thousands of button pins that bear the ranking with a slash through the numeral, and this year, ETSU can simply do a re-order of the slashed 39. Last year's ranking was regarded as a watershed moment because it was Tennessee's highest ranking ever.
"We've been moving in the right direction," Wykoff said. "While 39th is a great improvement over the recent past, there's still much work to be done. It will take a concerted, combined effort by businesses, schools, faith-based institutions and, most importantly, families and individuals to keep us trending upward."
The complete rankings are available at www.americashealthrankings.com