KINGSPORT — Tennessee is a state with plenty of health challenges. People smoke too much, too many adults are physically inactive and nearly 35 percent of the population is considered obese.
These are just some of the reasons Tennessee is ranked near the bottom of the health list when compared to the other 49 states in the Union.
The United Health Foundation on Tuesday released its America’s Health Rankings annual report, which ranked Tennessee at 45th — a one-place drop from 2016. For the past 28 years, the UHF report has analyzed a comprehensive set of data on behaviors, community and environment, policy, clinical care and outcomes to provide a holistic view of the health of the nation and each state.
Here are a few key findings from Tennessee:
• Drug deaths are on the rise. In the past five years, such fatalities have increased 27 percent in the state, from 15.7 to 19.9 deaths per 1,000 population. The rate of drug deaths jumped 8.7 percent in the last year alone. The state ranks 39th in the nation for this measure.
• Excessive drinking increased 29 percent since last year. The percentage of adults who reported binge drinking or chronic drinking increased from 11.2 percent to 14.4 percent. Still, Tennessee fares better than the national average of 18.5 percent and ranks sixth in the nation for the measure.
• The infant mortality rate is improving. In the past seven years, infant mortality decreased 16 percent from 8.2 to 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. The state ranks 38th in the nation for this measure.
Kandy Childress, executive director of Healthy Kingsport, said Tennessee’s drop from 44th to 45th overall is proof that much work must be done to achieve the positive health outcomes necessary for Tennesseans to have a better quality of life.
“The most difficult work is around changing behaviors related to chronic, preventable diseases, such as obesity and tobacco use,” Childress said. “Changing attitudes and behaviors is most successful when a community, not a healthcare system or a department of health, takes ownership of its health and well-being.”
Tennessee is slowly, but surely, increasing the number of communities that are mobilizing to create change, Childress noted. For example, the state now has 46 Healthier Tennessee Communities.
Kingsport was one of the first nine in the state.
To help change the trajectory of our community’s health outcome, Healthy Kingsport has implemented a number of strategies that Childress said are both scalable and replicable. These include:
• The Million Mile Challenge, where people, either individually or as teams, walk, track and log one million miles in a year’s time. Kingsport met this goal recently by logging 1.6 million miles. A two million mile goal is underway for next year.
• The Live Sugarfreed Campaign, which focuses on creating better access and convenience to water while encouraging folks to choose water over sugary drinks, tea and soda.
• Targeting tobacco by encouraging local businesses to have tobacco-free campuses and pushing for policy changes at the state level.