WASHINGTON – Maryland fell to 34th place this year in a survey comparing the overall health of states, the lowest the state has ranked in the 15 years the report has been produced.
The 2004 ranking continued a decline from 2000, when the joint report by the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention put Maryland in 23rd place.
The report, released Monday, measures 18 indicators of health, including smoking, obesity, infant mortality rates, per capita public health spending, occupational fatalities, violent crimes and infectious diseases.
While Maryland improved in several areas, such as in per capita public health spending and smoking trends, it did worse in areas such as obesity, children living in poverty and infant mortality.
“We made some health progress, but we’re not keeping pace with other states,” said Georges Benjamin, a former secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Benjamin, who is now the executive director of APHA, added that increased child poverty and infant mortality rates were “driving our numbers the wrong way.”
Current Maryland health department officials declined comment on the report Wednesday.
Maryland did relatively well on child poverty, posting the fourth-lowest rate in the nation. But the number of children under age 18 who were living in poverty rose from 7.6 percent last year — when Maryland had the lowest rate in the nation — to 10.6 percent in 2004.
“That means that there are still thousands of children in Maryland who are poor,” said Lynda Meade, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities in Baltimore. “In Maryland, over 13 percent of children under 5 years of age live in poverty.”
The report also found that Maryland had the second-highest rate of infectious diseases in the country at 43.9 cases per 100,000 residents, virtually unchanged from the year before. And while the number of violent crimes fell from 783 per 100,000 residents last year to 770 cases per 100,000 this year, that was still the third-highest rate in the country.
But Susan Hayes, associate director of the United Health Foundation, said the point of the study was not to spread alarm, but to issue a “call to action.”
“Each one of the states in many ways is experiencing successes, and clearly there are areas where Maryland is improving,” Hayes said. “I see Maryland holding its own in the middle here in some ways, and I do see factors in the state that show that . . . you will probably continue to hold your own.”
Jennean Everett-Reynolds, director of research at the Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth, said that some of Maryland’s weak areas, such as infant mortality, are puzzling given the state’s relative wealth.
“Maryland is one of the richest states in the country, and we tend to rank in the top three in median incomes for families with children under the age of 18,” she said. “But the flip side of that is that it makes us wonder why we’re doing poorly in certain areas with the resources we have.”
Maryland trailed all its neighbors but West Virginia, which the report put in 43rd place. Elsewhere in the region, Virginia finished in 20th place, Pennsylvania was 25th and Delaware was 32nd.
Nationwide, the report rated Minnesota, New Hampshire and Vermont the healthiest states in 2004, while Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana occupied the three lowest spots in the country.
-30- CNS 11-10-04