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Wisconsin No. 13 in health rankings; binge drinking, obesity still problems

Wisconsin No. 13 in health rankings; binge drinking, obesity still problems

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Wisconsin still leads the nation in binge drinking and has an obesity rate that continues to climb, according to rankings released this week by the United Health Foundation.

Almost 23 percent of Wisconsinites engage in excessive drinking.

About 27 percent, or 1.2 million, of the state’s residents are obese, up from 20 percent 10 years ago.

Still, the state is improving its health in other ways and moved from 18th to 13th in overall health.

The number of adult smokers decreased from 24.1 percent 10 years ago to 19.1 percent this year.

“We’re making progress, but we need to remind people tobacco use is still the No. 1 preventable cause of death,” said Paula Silha, co-coordinator of the 7 C’s Health Initiative, a tobacco prevention coalition serving seven area counties.

Silha sees a tie between alcohol and tobacco use, both of which raise cancer risk.

“We’re going to have to do something relating to alcohol use where we’re setting up the culture to use in a healthier way, not a binging way,” Silha said.

That work is already under way with the November announcement of a $750,000 grant to encourage alcohol safety in La Crosse County, received by the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium and the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Injury Research.

Other positive notes in the rankings included a decrease in the number of children living in poverty, from 15.5 percent last year to 12.7 percent this year. 

Diabetes is also slightly declining in Wisconsin, from 8.2 percent of adults to 7.1 percent. Wisconsin also leads in high school graduation, low rate of uninsured people and low incidence of infectious diseases.

“I think we’ve made some strides, but it’s a slow process,” said Linda Lee, La Crosse County Health Department nutrition manager. “We didn’t get here in one year, and we’re not going to get out of here in one year. 

“It takes some time to turn our environment around and turn people’s habits around.”

The state ranks last in the money it spends annually on public health funding, at $40 per person.

When the rankings were first released in 1990, Wisconsin placed seventh in overall health.

For the fifth year in a row, Vermont placed first. Minnesota placed sixth for the second consecutive year. The rankings are determined using data from sources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, World Health Organization and U.S. Census Bureau.

Wisconsin health

The good

--Fewer children in poverty

--A declining smoking rate

--Fewer people with diabetes

The bad

--Almost a quarter of the population binge drinks

--The state’s obesity rate has climbed 7 percentage points in 10 years

--Low per capita health funding

On the web: See the full health rankings at


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