WASHINGTON -- Massachusetts has replaced Vermont as the healthiest state for seniors, while Louisiana ranks as the unhealthiest for the second-straight year, according to a new report released Wednesday by the United Health Foundation, a nonprofit arm of insurer UnitedHealth Group.
Mississippi, which usually scores poorly in national health assessments, ranked 48th, trailed only by Oklahoma and last-place Louisiana.
The 2016 "America's Health Rankings Senior Report" used 35 health data measures to grade each state's performance in providing a healthy environment for residents age 65 and older.
Although Mississippi seniors had a low prevalence of excessive drinking and high prevalence of flu vaccinations, they also had a
low rate of health screenings and a high premature death rate, the report found.
In deaths per 100,000 adults ages 65 to 74, Mississippi topped all states with 2,442, the report found. The national average is 1,786. Hawaii had the fewest, with 1,394.
Mississippi also ranked dead last in terms of community support for impoverished residents age 65 and over. Mississippi provides an average of just $261 per senior citizen in poverty. The national average is $811. Alaska tops all states, providing an average of $6,701.
Efforts by Massachusetts seniors to cut smoking and increase physical activity and flu vaccinations helped it reach the top spot after finishing 6th in 2015. Vermont finished second, followed by New Hampshire, Minnesota and Hawaii.
High rates of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity among seniors kept Louisiana in last place for the second-straight year. Along with Oklahoma and Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia rounded out the five lowest-ranked states.
Nationally, seniors have improved their health status over the last three years as the number of home health care workers increased and the number of preventable hospitalizations, teeth extractions and hip fractures declined.
But increases in obesity and hunger and a decline in home-delivered meals, access to food stamps and financial support for seniors in poverty, contributed to an overall "mixed picture" on seniors' health, said Rhonda Randall, senior adviser to the United Health Foundation.
Improving seniors' health is complicated, as millions of aging baby boomers fuel a growth spurt among the elderly, many of whom have multiple chronic diseases.
By 2030, the number of seniors is expected to increase to 73.8 million, from 49.4 million this year, Randall said.