PA jumps two spots in national health ratings

(Sentinal) Pennsylvania jumped up two spots to 26th in the United Health Foundation’s 2012 America’s Health Rankings of the 50 states.

Dr. Philip L. Benditt, a medical director for United Healthcare of Pennsylvania, said the findings reflect the high proportion of high-school graduates and low levels of uninsured people across the state.

“We certainly didn’t jump because of public-health funding,” Benditt said, noting that such funding, according to the health-ranking report, decreased from $73 per person in 2007 to $52 in 2012.

Benditt said high-school graduation rates often mean the difference between a patient’s ability to comprehend treatment instructions and understand how it relates to their disease management.

“It gets down to what we call health literacy,” he said. “Part of it is basic literacy — it’s the ability to read, comprehend and understand what’s going on.

“One frustration I had (when I was in direct patient care) was I would give information to a patient and they wouldn’t read it,” Benditt said. “Or they could read it but didn’t understand how it affected their disease processes.”

Benditt said that although the state moved up two spots, Pennsylvanians still face significant health challenges that can only be corrected through behavioral changes.

“One of things we see is that there are a lot of things that are not specifically disease-oriented, but behavior-oriented,” Benditt said. “The way medicine is being taught these days is that all disease is a function of the interaction between their genetics and their environment. And their environment is increasingly linked to their behavior.”

Benditt said this is reflected in the smoking and sedentary lifestyle rate across the state. According to the health-ranking report, 22.4 percent of Pennsylvanians smoke, 28.6 percent are obese and 26.2 percent experience sedentary lifestyles — the last two of which, Benditt warns, increases the likelihood of developing diabetes.

“Reducing weight 5 percent can greatly lower the risk of diabetes,” he said. “It’s a do-able amount.”

Overall, Benditt remains optimistic that the state will continue to climb in the rankings.

“I’m the eternal optimist,” he said. “I see that we could have improvement further. Its basically up to the people in the commonwealth.”