By John Toole
---- — New Hampshire is the fifth healthiest state in the nation, but has fallen behind neighboring Massachusetts in newly released rankings by the United Health Foundation.
Massachusetts maintained its standing as the fourth-ranked state.
“We are lucky to be living in such a healthy state, but there is more work to be done,” said Dr. Jose Montero, New Hampshire’s public health director.
Revisions by the foundation affected the standing among states this year.
“We had a change in the methodology this year that we use to construct the report and measure the health of a state,” spokeswoman Lauren Mihajlov said. “We added four new measures and revised the data in two others.”
The report said cardiovascular deaths in New Hampshire decreased 42 percent over 10 years, but smoking has decreased more than 2 percent in the past year.
“Our immunization rate among children is second in the country, but it is not acceptable that we are seeing a busy year for cases of whooping cough,” Montero said. “We still struggle, too, with a fairly high rate of obesity and diabetes as well as youth tobacco use.”
The percentage of children of children living in poverty is a concern. That increased over 10 years from 6.5 percent to 10.9 percent.
“There seems to be an inverse correlation between poverty and health,” said Gale Hennessy, executive director of Southern New Hampshire Services.
The correlation between poverty and poor health is one of the driving factors behind the agency’s efforts to alleviate poverty in Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, he said.
“The lower the rate of poverty, the more healthy the population,” Hennessy said.
Garrett Simonsen, coordinator for the Greater Derry Public Health Network, should be proud of highlights such as the low infant mortality rate and high immunization rates.
He said New Hampshire has made progress on decreasing smoking and that is positive.
“We know that smoking is linked to a number of negative health outcomes, so the decrease in the prevalence and the availability of programs to promote continued reductions is important,” Simonsen said.
The report pointed to another health concern for the state.
“One of the challenges for New Hampshire that is highlighted in the report is the prevalence of binge drinking,” he said.
Salem health officer Brian Lockard said he hasn’t reviewed the report’s findings yet, but they sound impressive.
“That is a reflection of the state in which we live,” Lockard said.
Plaistow health officer Dennise Horrocks agreed.
“New Hampshire has ranked in the top five healthiest states for several years and we are very fortunate to live in a healthy state,” Horrocks said.
The report does show areas that need improvement, she acknowledged.
By identifying high priority health issues, public health partners can work together to overcome challenges facing the state, she said.
When compared with other states, New Hampshire had a much higher score for actions that can affect future health and that provides a positive indication the state will improve, Horrocks said.
In key categories in the study, New Hampshire ranked 22nd in obesity, 11th in smoking and 16th in diabetes. Massachusetts ranked second in obesity, seventh in smoking and 10th in diabetes.
Binge drinking was identified as a challenge for both states. A high incidence of pertussis, or whooping cough, infections was a challenge for New Hampshire, while a high rate of preventable hospitalizations was a challenge for Massachusetts.