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College of Public Health

ETSU public health dean heartened by Tennessees leap in health rankings

December 6, 2011

JOHNSON CITY Tennessee leapt forward today in the annual rankings that gauge the health of all 50 states, moving up to No. 39 to give the Volunteer State its highest ranking ever.

Americas Health Rankings have been compiled and released annually by the United Health Foundation since 1990, and prior to 2011, Tennessee never claimed a ranking higher than No. 42. This years placement at 39th continues a steady upward trend. Five years ago, Tennessee had a ranking of 48th.

As dean of the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health, Dr. Randy Wykoff anxiously awaits this list each year. The college makes button pins when the rankings are released, with a slash through the number to illustrate the desire for upward movement.

I have never lived in a place that is as focused on better health as our state, Wykoff said. From the Governors Health and Wellness Task Force at the state level to the innumerable localefforts in communities such as ours, Tennessee is seeing real improvements based on real efforts.

We recognize that these advances in health statistics reflect important efforts to emphasize education, reduce poverty and provide access to affordable health care.

To assess an overall ranking, researchers for Americas Health Rankings track over 20 categories across the public health spectrum, ranging from numbers of cancer deaths to primary care physicians per capita.

Tennessee gets high marks in some areas. For example, Tennesseans have the lowest rate of binge drinking in the nation. The state is also strong in the rate of childhood immunizations (eighth), frequency of poor mental health days (11th), geographic disparity (14th), primary care physicians per capita (18th) and public health funding (22nd).

The state scores low in such things as violent crime at 47th, its worst ranking and also preventable hospitalizations, diabetes and cancer deaths, all coming in at No. 46. In rates of cardiovascular death and premature death, Tennessee is 44th.

The College of Public Health gives away more than 1,000 of the buttons every year. Wykoff said that when Tennessee reaches a ranking of 20th, hell drop the slash.

One of the reasons that we do the annual pin campaign is to remind people that these numbers can change, Wykoff said. These numbers reflect things that we as individuals, as families and as communities really can influence.

The complete rankings are available at

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