Louisiana’s Health Rankings For 2015

Dr. David J. Holcombe
Dr. David J. Holcombe

It’s early in the year and still time for 2016 New Year’s resolutions, hopefully based on statistics gleaned from 2015 data.  America’s Health Rankings, compiled by the United Health Foundation, provides a snapshot of state health in 2015.   Louisiana, alas, has much to ponder and even more to improve.


Sadly, our state received an overall ranking of 50/50, slipping below our neighbors, Mississippi (49/50) and Arkansas (48/50).  Despite millions of dollars or resources and countless man hours of work, Louisiana’s annual ranking has been at or near the bottom of state rankings since the United Health Foundation began compiling statistics in 1990.


The ranking is made up of two major components:  “Health Outcomes” (morbidity and mortality data) and “Health Determinants” (a complex basket of behaviors, environmental factors, health policy and clinical care data.)  Although our outcomes rank us at 43/50, our determinants (those elements that predict outcomes) place us rock bottom at 50/50.


So what are some of the highlights and take home messages?  First, we do have some successes, notably high immunization rates among children and adolescents (8/50).  We also have, however, a multitude of terrific challenges, especially with our high rates of smoking, obesity, childhood poverty, STDs, infant mortality, cancer deaths and premature deaths.  In every bad category listed above, Louisiana ranks 45 to 50/50; dismal rankings, indeed.


There have been some victories, including a decrease by 16% in preventable hospitalizations in the past two years, and a 26% decrease in cardiovascular deaths in the last 20 years (mirroring a nationwide trend).  Less promising has been an increase in children living in poverty (up 20%) and a decrease in state public health funding (down 33%).  While there is no direct correlation between state healthcare funding and state health outcomes, there is an irrefutable correlation between poverty, low educational attainment and corresponding health outcomes.  Louisiana struggles with a low per capita income (around $25,000 per capita) and low high school graduation rates of around 73% (45/50), both predictors of unfavorable health and social outcomes.


Our poor lifestyle choices include low physical activity (48/50), high smoking (46/50) and overeating with resulting obesity (47/50), which leads to excessive levels of diabetes (11% of the population or 39/50 states) and subsequent cardiovascular deaths (46/50).  Although personal choice remains fundamental for health outcomes, public efforts directed at zoning, taxation, education and infrastructure all play important roles in creating a healthy environment, conducive to better personal choices.


Louisiana must not remain 50 out of 50.  We all need to work together to improve health outcomes in 2016.  Let that be our New Year’s resolution.