CHEYENNE – The United Health Foundation ranked Wyoming the 26th-healthiest state in its annual state-by-state report this year, one spot down from 2016.
The nonprofit, an offshoot of the major insurer UnitedHealth Group, compares states on 35 different statistics, measuring risk factors such as the prevalence of smoking and excessive drinking, and outcomes, like the number of people dying from cancer or living with diabetes. Public health policies, access to care and environmental issues also are considered.
Massachusetts took the top spot with just 2.5 percent of people going without health insurance, and nation-leading access to doctors and immunizations. Mississippi came in last, weighed down by poor numbers across the board.
Researchers found several bright spots in the Cowboy State, home to the cleanest air quality in the country and relatively low rates of cancer deaths and diabetes.
But high rates of excessive drinking and smoking, an occupational fatality rate that leads the country, and low marks on immunization rates and primary-care access conspired to offset the highlights and keep Wyoming’s ranking lower than that of neighbors Colorado, Nebraska and Montana.
Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti pushed back on the report’s conclusions on immunization rates, however.
Wyoming ranked 47th in its rate of recommended immunizations for adolescents and 49th for early childhood inoculations.
But Deti said the national immunization surveys used for the analysis often have small sample sizes in Wyoming, which could potentially skew results. And she said statistics from Wyoming schools indicated the vast majority of kids were getting their required
She conceded smoking rates were not ideal - roughly 18.9 percent of Wyomingites are smokers, according to the report. But she also pointed out that her department offers plentiful resources to anyone interested in quitting that have shown results in recent years. The 2010 report said 23 percent of the adult population smoked.
“More people smoke in Wyoming than we would like see smoke,” she said. “But if someone in Wyoming is ready to quit smoking, it’s going to cost them nothing or very little for cessation aids and online or phone coaching or support.”
Deaths on the job - Wyoming saw 12.6 per 100,000 workers in 2017 - could be more difficult to decrease, though.
Meredith Towle, who studies workplace injuries for the state, said Wyoming is home to many potentially dangerous jobs in agriculture, mining, energy production and transportation.
And there hasn’t been a sustained decrease in the number of fatalities in more than a decade.
But she pointed out that accidents were often - if not always - preventable: most of the deaths counted by the Department of Workforce Services in recent years have been caused by motor vehicle crashes. And seven of 22 roadway crash victims in the transportation industry in 2012-2016 simply weren’t wearing seat belts.