The overall health of Louisiana improved over the last year, inching Louisiana up one spot in America's Health Rankings 2007 from 50 to 49. In fact, the United Health Foundation identifies Louisiana as successfully making strides in one area of health care where the rest of the nation is lagging behind.
According to the report, the prevalence of obesity in Louisiana has dropped by 12 percent over the past year. While many states showed increases in their obesity rates, Louisiana was the only state to see a decline over three percent.
"Part of that decline we can attribute to some of our statewide health programs that have been very successful," said Rudy Macklin, Director of the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
"Programs like Lighten Up Louisiana, the Governor's Games and the Elementary Fitness Meet promote and get people involved in physical fitness and nutrition. With each year they become more popular, and I think that success is evidenced by our state's obesity rate declining, while the country as a whole is seeing the opposite trend."
Two additional factors that contributed to Louisiana's improved ranking include the state's continued accessibility to prenatal care and a significant increase in high school graduation rates.
Some improvement in access to prenatal care can be attributed to a program that expands coverage to unborn children through the Louisiana Children's Health Insurance Program (LaCHIP). This provides coverage for expectant mothers who are not eligible for the LaMOMS program where nearly 1,000 additional expectant mothers are enrolled. Louisiana maintained it's ranking of 6 in this area from 2006 to 2007.
Louisiana had the biggest improvement of any state in the percentage of high school students who graduate within four years, with an increase from 64.1 percent to 69.4 percent. The state's ranking in this category improved from 44 in 2006 to currently 39 in the country.
Louisiana saw a decrease in the rate of childhood immunizations. After showing significant improvement for the past three years, the rates dropped following Katrina and Rita. Immunization experts with the state say the loss of doctors and the displacement of young families were significant enough to impact these rates. The state's ranking dropped from 43 to 49.
DHH Secretary Dr. Roxane Townsend added the increased rate of uninsured citizens that Louisiana and Mississippi were noted for in the report could also be attributed to the hurricanes.
"When people lost not only their homes but their jobs, many of them also lost their health care coverage," Townsend explained. "That's why we are trying to address this problem by increasing access to primary and preventive care at the community level in the storm-impacted areas." Louisiana's ranking dropped from 43 to 48 in rate of uninsured.
Another category affected by the 2005 storm season is the number of primary care physicians in the state.
"The Department of Health and Hospitals has been working through the use of grant funding to replace the doctors who left Louisiana after Katrina and Rita," said Dr. Townsend. "Despite our recent successes in recruitment, during the period covered by the United Health Foundation's report, they found that we were below previous estimates." Louisiana dropped from 22 to 26 in this category.