In an annual check up of our nation’s health, Arizona ranked 30th among all 50 states in 2015.  As a state, we have a low rate of both cancer and cardiovascular deaths, but have a high percentage of children in poverty and low rate of high school graduation.  Those findings come from United Health Foundation’s  America’s Health Rankings® Annual Report, which has been measuring national and state health for just over a quarter of a century.

As a Medical Director, I always look forward to the America’s Health Rankings Annual Report because it offers an overview of where we stand in health both as a nation and relative to our peer states. The report provides a reflection of Arizona’s health that is at once sobering and encouraging.  Over the last 10 years, cardiovascular deaths have decreased 21%, while children in poverty has increased 35%.

Arizona ranks 7th in the country for a low rate of preventable hospitalizations with 40 discharges per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries. Hospitalizations can be prevented in a variety of ways including preventive care as well as utilizing wellness programs and online tools that help with physician selection, reducing costs for visits and procedures and offering instant access to nurses, information on nearby physicians and more.

Measuring and monitoring our nation’s health has never been more important, and the results of this year’s America’s Health Rankings Annual Report show how far we’ve come in the last 26 years – and how far we still have to go as a country.

This year’s data show that as a nation, Americans are smoking less and living less sedentary lifestyles; however, our country is facing complex health challenges that threaten Americans’ health and quality of life. Obesity and diabetes are at all-time highs, and rates of drug deaths – including including illegal and prescription drug abuse – and children living in poverty are on the rise.

Understanding trends in health and wellness makes it clear where we need to focus our resources and attention. With Arizona’s high percentrage of children in poverty, and low rate of high school graduation

In 2016, America’s Health Rankings will publish new reports that will enable us to track these challenges more closely – so that they can be addressed more effectively. These include new reports on the health of select populations such as mothers and children, and our nation’s veterans, as well as “spotlight” reports on key public health topics. The goal is to offer more information to help improve public health.

When it comes to the future of Arizona’s health, and America’s health, we are all in it together. Let’s commit now to making the changes necessary to ensure that we build a healthier tomorrow, today. 

Dr. Thomas J. Biuso is the medical director for UnitedHealthcare of Arizona.