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South Dakota 27th healthiest, 8 lower than last year

Doneen Hollingsworth

A national survey lists South Dakota as the nation's 27th healthiest state, a ranking that puts the Rushmore State below its nearest neighbors and eight spots below last year's ranking.

The survey, called America's Health Rankings, is conducted annually by the United Health Foundation and the American Public Health Association. To compile the final list, the groups consider actual health measures -- such as cancer, diabetes and obesity -- as well as lifestyle factors and quality-of-life indicators.

According to the survey, South Dakota's health strengths are low levels of air pollution, low incidence of infectious disease and few mental/physical health days per month.

The state's "challenges" -- so-called by the survey itself -- are a high prevalence of binge drinking, low immunization coverage and high geographic disparity within the state. As an indicator for the survey, the United Health Foundation notes that "for a population to be healthy, it must minimize health disparities among segments of the population."

"The problem areas identified in the report are not news, and efforts are already under way to address many of them -- infant mortality and obesity, for example," state Secretary of Health Doneen Hollingsworth told The Daily Republic on Tuesday.

Neighboring states, and their 2012 health rank, are Minnesota, No. 5; North Dakota, No. 12; Nebraska, No. 15; Wyoming, No. 23; and Montana, No. 29.

For the fourth straight year, Vermont is No. 1 in the rankings. Mississippi and Louisiana are tied for 49th, generally where they have been for more than two decades.

South Dakota was No. 19 last year.

Hollingsworth said South Dakota is making headway or at least maintaining in several of the health indicators used in America's Health Rankings.

"(The) infectious disease rate, preventable hospitalizations, and occupational fatalities are down, for example," she said.

Hollingsworth said geographic disparity remains a challenge for the state, due to South Dakota's "reservation communities bearing significantly higher burdens from such indicators as tobacco use and poverty."