Louisiana has gone from last place nationwide to 48th in the 2006 Morgan Quitno State Health Care Rankings. The state improved on the majority of factors considered when assigning these rankings.

Morgan Quitno annually ranks the states to determine which is the healthiest by looking at 21 factors such as smoking, obesity, health care availability and rates of certain diseases. Louisiana improved on 13 factors and maintained its previous ranking on six others.

“Our ranking improvement shows that the health care reforms implemented over the past two years are helping us build a healthier state,” said Department of Health Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise. “Obviously, we would like to see that ranking go even higher, but we are pleased to see reports such as this that show our reforms are working.”

The area where Louisiana showed the most improvement was on the percentage of children who do not have health insurance coverage. Previously ranked sixth from last, Louisiana improved 27 places and is now ranked 33rd nationwide.

“At the start of her reform effort, Gov. Blanco challenged us to find and enroll every eligible child, and we stepped up our outreach efforts to do this,” Dr. Cerise said. “This approach has helped us provide health care to more than 50,000 children since the start of her administration, which means they will be more likely to receive primary care and have better health outcomes in the future.”

Louisiana also improved its ranking on childhood immunizations. The state moved up three ranking positions and increased the number of children immunized by nearly 4 percent. The LINKS system, which tracks childhood immunizations in the state, is credited for improving this ranking.

Other areas in which Louisiana improved were percent of mothers receiving late or no prenatal care, teenage birth rate, infant mortality rate, average annual family health insurance coverage premiums, percent of overall population not covered by health insurance, AIDS rates, STD rates, percent of adults who binge drink, percent of adults who smoke and seat belt usage.

The state maintained its ranking in the categories of low birth weight babies, death rate, cancer death rate, suicide death rate, rate of new cancer cases and percent of population lacking access to primary care.

Overall, Louisiana only dropped its ranking on one factor, the percentage of adults who are obese.

“We realize that obesity is a problem in our state, and we have taken measures to address that,” Dr. Cerise said. “Gov. Blanco worked very hard during last year’s legislative session to implement healthier vending in schools as a way to address the obesity epidemic in our state. This legislation will help our youth form good nutrition habits at an early age and decrease their likelihood of becoming obese. We have also implemented healthier options in our WIC program, a nutritional support program for families, to help them build better eating habits at an early age.”

There was one new factor added to this year’s rankings, the percentage of adults who exercise. Louisiana was third from the bottom in this category. Dr. Cerise explained that as part of the state’s push to combat obesity, more exercise is promoted along with healthier eating.

“To continue to improve our state health ranking, all of our citizens must make a personal commitment to live healthier,” Dr. Cerise said. “As you can see, several of the factors such as smoking, drinking, obesity and exercise are all personal behaviors, and we are trying to help people become better informed about the importance of living in a healthy way to avoid future illnesses.”