Three areas identified as priorities for improving overall health.
Kansas has come up a notch in America's Health Rankings, but the state has some work to do to achieve the top ratings received by Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Minnesota.
Kansas ranks 24th in the analysis of national health on a state-by-state basis published jointly by United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention. The report has been compiled each year for 23 years, the longest-running report of its kind.
Kansas has one of the highest obesity rates in the United States — more than 29 percent, although no state has less than 20 percent, according to Dr. Tony Sun, medical director for UnitedHealthcare of Kansas. He sees combating obesity as one of three targets for making Kansans healthier, along with increasing public health funding and policy-making that would improve the state's doctor-patient ratio.
Kansas ranks 46th in public health funding, allocating $45 per person, compared to $236 per person in the top state in the category. It ranks 37th in the number of primary care physicians, with 101.7 per 100,000 population, about half the ratio in the top-ranked state.
On the positive side, Kansas beats the national average for high school graduation and has one of the lowest rates for low birth-weight babies. A concentrated educational campaign has reduced the number of small babies, and that will continue to be a focus, Sun said.
The state has also done a good job in getting infants and children immunized on time, he said. More than 91 percent of children ages 19 to 35 months are up to date on immunizations, compared to a little over 94 percent for the number one state in that category.
Sun described the report as a call to action, and said that tackling obesity is never an easy solution, but is one that could result in gains in several outcomes, such as the incidence of diabetes and heart disease and loss of work time due to physical or mental illness.
"We've got to shift our mindset," he said.
He mentioned several changes and noted that "every little bit helps."
• Healthy eating must be the easy and cheaper choice, at neighborhood grocery stores and farmers' markets.
• Employers can take away unhealthy choices in vending machines.
• Show calorie counts on menus and vending machines — make people rethink their choices.
• Parents and employers must lead by example.
He admitted that policies that restrict an individual's choices are not popular, and that thinking about controlling calories runs counter to holiday traditions.
"The best gift we can give to each other is health," Sun emphasized. "That is not to say you don't want to enjoy the Christmas holiday — a portion can be just as enjoyable if slightly less."
Obesity is not just an individual problem.
"Health is both an asset to a community and a tremendous burden if we don't manage it," he said, noting a rising prevalence of type 2 diabetes, which used to be referred to as adult-onset, but is now affecting a heavier adolescent and teen population.
Communities throughout Kansas are already working on the problem, redesigning buildings and infrastructure to encourage physical activity, Sun said.
The Pratt Health Foundation has applied for a grant to hire a consultant to determine what action can be taken to improve health in Pratt.