published Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Shorter lives, poorer health in Tennessee

Dr. Rick Mathis

Tennessee has remained among the worst states for overall health since America's Health Rankings began ranking the states in 1990. The most recent edition ranked Tennessee as 42nd among the states. While this is an improvement over the state's ranking of 48th in 2008, it continues a decade's long trend of dismal ratings. Many of the state's issues identified in the rankings, such as high rates of violent crime, low birth weight infants, and infant mortality, also characterize health in Hamilton County. These, along with obesity, smoking, and the percentage of children living in poverty, were identified as issues in the Ochs Center's 2013 State of Chattanooga Health Report.

It is tempting to rely on public service messages and programs to encourage people to engage in healthier habits in order to improve the state's and the region's health. The problem with these approaches is that they often don't work. Behavior change is hard, especially when it involves ingrained habits such as poor eating, lack of exercise and smoking. Such approaches also fail to take into account the background conditions that lead to poor health.

An important addition to our understanding may be found in a National Institutes of Health sponsored study completed last year. "Shorter Lives, Poorer Health" found that the U.S. ranks far poorer on several key health measures than most European countries and Japan. Interestingly, the same health issues that are identified as problems for the U.S. are also problems for Tennessee; namely, low birth weight infants, violent crime, and obesity. This makes our poor rating even harder to accept, for it means we are among the least healthy states in a generally unhealthy nation.

Several findings of Shorter Lives, Poorer Health are helpful when considering Tennessee. The study found, for example, that even affluent, insured Americans suffer from poorer health than those in similar groups in the comparison countries. Higher rates of disease and premature death in the U.S. are not reserved for the poor, but for the middle class and wealthy as well. The authors of the report suggest that social and economic differences are contributing factors to the poorer health of the nation. The gap between the rich and the poor is more pronounced in the U.S., and there is an increasing number of children in poverty. In looking at Tennessee, it is likely not a coincidence that we do poorly on such measures as income disparity, social mobility and children in poverty. There is a high probability that the poor will remain poor in Tennessee, and this negatively impacts the health of all of us.

Improving the overall health of the state and of the region means not only encouraging people to adopt healthier habits. It also means improving opportunities for the disadvantaged. In addition to safer streets, we need to ensure that educational and economic opportunities are available throughout the region, and to find ways that help people avail themselves of these opportunities. We need to understand that poverty and wide income disparities are unhealthy not just for the poor, but for all Tennesseans.

Dr. Rick Mathis is a health researcher and writer and was the principal author of the Ochs Center's 2013 State of the Region Report on Health.

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conservative said...

Bad morals mean often results in bad health.

If the Liberals would leave it would surely improve Tennessee.

June 18, 2014 at 8:17 a.m.
conservative said...

Bad morals often results in bad health.

I don't know how I got "mean" in there. Sorry.

June 18, 2014 at 8:55 a.m.
Ki said...

If all liberals 'left TN, conserv, your kind would just turn on and devour one another. Then the statistics would be much more worse. That's a promise.

June 18, 2014 at 9:06 a.m.
moon4kat said...

"Bad morals" often result from kids being mentally abused and told too many things they soon discover are simply not true. Then, they don't know what to believe, and go far afield experimenting.
Teach kids about reality, facts and truths they can trust, not myths. Then, they are more likely to listen to adult lessons about how to live.

June 18, 2014 at 10:16 a.m.
moon4kat said...

Also, health problems are caused by many factors unrelated to morals. Ignorance of what constitutes a healthy diet and lifestyle is a major factor. A steady diet of processed fast "food" packed with sugar, preservatives, and hydrogenated fat is the cause of many health problems. And, health is also affected when people spend way too many hours spent in front of the "boob tube" instead of enjoying outside activities.

June 18, 2014 at 10:20 a.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

Con, To extrapolate the gossamer thread of your logic, you are implying that the morals of the folks of TN are somehow much worse on average that the morals of say California which ranks much higher? Is that because California is full homosexuals from Hollywood or illegal immigrants pray tell?

June 19, 2014 at 9:06 a.m.
conservative said...

Hunter, I am not implying, I am saying directly that immoral behavior and lifestyle often results in poor health.

If the Liberals in Tennessee would leave our score or standing would greatly improve.

This is a no brainer.

June 19, 2014 at 9:20 a.m.
moon4kat said...

All the liberals I know in TN are healthy, active, and ethical. If they left the state, we'd have an even lower health ranking.

June 19, 2014 at 9:59 a.m.
Ki said...

--conserv does your suggestion include Erlanger shutting down its PICU and shipping all those sick children with "bad" morals out of state to a re compassionate facility? You're certainly not the epitome of the compassionate christian one would expect. You're the primary example why the religion is dying at an alarming rate.

June 19, 2014 at 10:18 a.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

Con - you know no brains. Your words demonstrate you live it every day.

June 19, 2014 at 10:51 p.m.
conservative said...

You can't offend me Hunter, I understand your plight.

June 20, 2014 at 8 a.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

Don't flatter yourself connie, I've no interest in you. Your age and health will take care of you soon enough and consign your bitter soul to whatever lies next.

June 20, 2014 at 8:18 a.m.
conservative said...

Then why did you come out of the blue with an attempt to insult me if you have no interest in me?

What is really troubling you?

June 20, 2014 at 9:20 a.m.
Plato said...

I totally agree with the thrust of the article that many health care issues can be prevented or mitigated by life style changes. OTOH, if the governor would simply sign a piece of paper, 300,000 hard working Tennesseans that currently do not have access to preventive medicine would. I think that would also go a long way to raise our national ranking.

June 21, 2014 at 7:37 p.m.
moon4kat said...

Right you are, Plato. Unfortunately, Bill Haslam has either no spine or no brain . . . and maybe he's lacking both. He wants the status and title of Governor while abandoning the normal people he is supposed to represent.

June 22, 2014 at 11:41 p.m.
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