The Healthiest States for Retirees

A survey ranks the states based on health and lifestyle for those over 65

(This article appeared previously on MarketWatch.com.)

New York may offer retirees world-class entertainment, while Wyoming boasts mountain vistas and low taxes. But when it comes to the health of those 65 and over, Minnesota takes the top spot, according to a study released this month by United Health Foundation.

The second annual “America’s Health Rankings Senior Report” ranked all 50 states on the health and well-being of older Americans, based on 34 statistical measures, ranging from the availability of geriatricians to the prevalence of volunteering among older people. Minnesota ranked first, while Mississippi placed last.

(MORE: Best and Worst States for Long-Term Care)

Not a 'Best States To Retire' List

Dr. Reed Tuckson, senior medical adviser to the United Health Foundation, a nonprofit foundation established by UnitedHealth Group UNH (parent company to insurer UnitedHealthcare), said the rankings weren’t designed as a list of the best states in which to retire.

That said, it merits a mention that retiree haven Florida ranked a worse-than-average 28th overall, with strengths including high levels of physical activity among older people and weaknesses including a high prevalence of chronic drinking among those 65 and over.

Tuckson said the study results could be used to highlight best practices and pinpoint areas of improvement when it comes to the health and well-being of older Americans throughout the country.

(MORE: 5 Best and Worst States to Retire, Maybe)

Some of the areas with the greatest need for improvement involve lifestyle behaviors. As boomers age, “We are going to have a very challenging time managing the health costs of preventable chronic conditions,” Tuckson said.

Why Lifestyle Matters to Retirees

Obesity, for example, contributes to a whole host of health problems, including Type 2 diabetes and joint pain. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in this country was $147 billion in 2008, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, more than a quarter of those 65 and older are obese.

People with obesity may become sedentary, which in turn can contribute to more weight gain and perhaps social isolation. And the negative effects of couch-surfing don’t end there: Research out earlier this year suggested that sedentary behavior is its own risk factor for disability.

(MORE: How to Choose Where to Retire)

Why Minnesota?

Minnesota ranked only average in the percentage of its older population with obesity, but was No. 1 for the state with the highest percentage of able-bodied older adults.

Its cold winter climate actually boosts activity in the six months that are more temperate, said Seth Boffeli, a spokesperson for AARP Minnesota. “When it does get warm, people go outside,” Boffeli said. People of all ages enjoy biking on Minnesota’s many bike trails and hiking along the lakes.

Minnesota also scored first in the country for the highest percentage of dental visits. That’s a significant barometer, since Medicare doesn’t cover routine dental care and inadequate dental care can negatively impact overall health. Weak teeth can make it harder to eat a nutritious diet, for example.

The United Health Foundation is based in Minnetonka, Minn. The fact that the state also took first in the study — which used a scoring methodology for each health measure that ranked states in relation to a national mean — was “an unusual coincidence,” Tuckson said.

Home Health Care Also Factors In

Other measures that made up the composite score included the prevalence of home health care and nursing-home quality, as ranked by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

You can check out how your state fared by visiting United Health Foundation’s website.

The study can also be useful for family caregivers. Even apart from the state rankings, the wide-ranging data the report compiled illustrates the various factors that influence an older person’s quality of life. As such, they can serve as a checklist for family members to make sure their loved one has everything he or she needs to thrive.

There’s no question that people are living longer than ever before, Tuckson said, but “how well we are living longer is key.”

Elizabeth O'Brien is a retirement healthcare reporter for MarketWatch. Contact her at Elizabeth.O'[email protected].

By Elizabeth O'Brien
Elizabeth O'Brien is a retirement healthcare reporter for MarketWatch. Contact her at Elizabeth.O'[email protected]@elizobrien

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