Tennessee Ranks 43rd for Senior Health

By Don Wade

Statistically, you will be a far healthier senior citizen living in Minnesota than in Tennessee. That’s according to America’s Health Rankings 2014 Senior Report.

The report, which examined the health of people 65 and older, ranked Tennessee 43rd. Minnesota finished first in the rankings. The analysis reflects the health of seniors on 34 measures of health, including prevalence of obesity, chronic health conditions, level of physical activity, food insecurity and poverty.

Tennessee's low rank can be attributed to multiple factors, including the second-highest rate of smoking in the country, at 12.5 percent or 110,000 seniors who smoke; and ranking 46th for preventable hospitalizations, with 80.8 preventable hospitalizations per 1,000 Medicare discharges. There also are high rates of hip fractures (47th) and teeth extractions (45th), and a bottom-10 ranking for food insecurity among seniors for the second year in a row.

United Health Foundation compiled the report using publicly available health data. Tennessee ranked 42nd in 2013. Many Southern states finished in the bottom 10 of the overall 2014 rankings.


“(The scores) are what they are because people do what they do,” said Dr. Paul Banick, market medical director for Mid-South UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual.

But there was some good news in that. The state ranked well for its low prevalence of chronic drinking among seniors (fifth). It also had a high percentage of social support (fourth) and high flu vaccination coverage (second).

The study also shows that physical inactivity among Tennessee seniors decreased by 22 percent in the past year. The percentage of hospital deaths among the state’s seniors also decreased by 22 percent, boosting Tennessee’s ranking on that measure from 45th to 35th.

Banick called the 70 percent flu vaccination rate for Tennessee seniors “a great thing.” It offers encouragement toward improvement in other areas, such as smoking, he said. That isn’t to say Banick doesn’t realize how big the challenge is when talking about changing a habit that formed over decades, though.

“It’s easy,” he said, “to give a one-time flu vaccine.”

Nationally, the report showed a trend toward more exercise.

“I feel like not enough people still do it, but it’s definitely better than it used to be,” Suzanne Salamon, associate head of geriatrics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told USA Today.

Seniors age 65 and older should be covered by Medicare, Banick says, but it’s still important that they have a primary health provider or regular physician.

“Yes, that’s a challenge,” Banick said. “United and others are trying to encourage seniors to plug into a primary care provider.”

Tennessee's senior population is expected to grow by 46.3 percent between 2015 and 2030.