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New York's rank for overall health improves to 26th in U.S.

New York improved its overall health ranking in the last year, while the nation's health declined for the first time since 2002, according to a United Health Foundation study released Monday.

New York is the 26th healthiest state in the country, up three spots from last year's 29th-place ranking, according to the foundation's 18th-annual "America's Health Rankings" study. Much of this increase is a result of long-term decreases in root causes of bad health, which offset several major shorter-term public health problems.

In the past year, the state has seen a 1 percent increase in the rate of uninsured citizens, to 14 percent, and an increase in incidence of infectious disease, to 46 cases from 43.5 per 100,000 people.

New York has a higher incidence of infectious disease than any other state in the country.

The state also ranks 48th in access to adequate prenatal care, though the report did not explain how the foundation arrived at that ranking. It also has the 49th-lowest high school graduation rate, with 60.9 percent of incoming ninth-graders graduating, a statistic officials say is an important factor in determining future health.

But there is good news for New Yorkers. Since 1990, the state has experienced a 45 percent decrease in the infant mortality rate, to 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, from 10.7 deaths, and a 57 percent decrease in the violent crime rate, to 435 offenses per 100,000 people from 1,007.

Additionally, one of the largest health factors contributing to a decrease in nationwide health is obesity. New York has the 11th-lowest obesity rate, 22.9 percent of the population, low by American standards.

In the past year, America's overall health has decreased 0.3 percent, the first time since 2002, and the third time since the study started in 1990.

One of the largest negative health trends which contributed greatly to the downward trend, and, experts say, will do so increasingly as affected populations age, is the obesity epidemic.

"We now see, year after year, a steady increase in the number of Americans who are obese, now reaching, amazingly, 25 percent of the population," said Dr. Reed V. Tuckson, a United Health Foundation board member. "This means, inevitably, that we will have significantly more people who will experience a cardiovascular disease, a stroke, diabetes, or a cancer, as a result."

Compounding these problems is an increase in the number of Americans who cannot afford health care coverage. The foundation estimates that at least 18,000 people die prematurely every year due to lack of health insurance.

email: citydesk@buffnews.com

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