Is Massachusetts Healthy? Depends What You Mean

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The Massachusetts Health Council has completed its bi-annual check-up on health in the state, looking at 11 key indicators ranging from access to care to obesity rates, and the results are mixed. Below are some of the most notable findings from this year's report, "Common Health for the Commonwealth: Massachusetts Trends in the Preventable Determinants of Health."

Access To Care:

Emergency room use has increased. Massachusetts Health Council Executive Director Susan Servais said this came as the biggest surprise.

"Once health care reform was instituted and everyone would be insured, we thought that there would be a drop in the use of the emergency room as a primary setting for health care," Servais said. "That has not been the case."

Part of the reason that emergency room traffic has increased is likely thanks to another finding:  Only 44 percent of primary-care doctors accept new patients.

"Even though 97 percent of Massachusetts residents have insurance, it's hard to get in to see a doctor," Servais said, "or there are long waits to see a doctor."

Indeed, the report shows the average wait for an appointment is rising.

To make matters worse, 74 percent of practicing physicians say the current pool of physician applicants are inadequate to fill the vacant positions.

Obesity And Overweightness:

Sixteen percent of two-to-five year-olds in Massachusetts are overweight or obese. The numbers don't look much better for older kids, either. Seventeen percent of middle-school students in the state are overweight or obese and 14 percent of high-school students fall into the same category.

There are strong economic discrepancies in the rates of overweightness and obesity among kids. One-third of low-income two-to-five year olds are overweight or obese, compared to just 16 percent of that age group overall. And while 47 percent of the poorest students in the state are overweight or obese, the same is true of just 10 percent of the wealthiest students.

Interestingly, while the percentage of overweight or obese young people has risen, the percentage of overweight or obese adults has fallen slightly, from 59 percent in 2007 to 57.5 percent in 2009. Servais attributes this drop to increased attention to the health risks — from TV shows like "The Biggest Loser" to workplace initiatives focused on getting employees to lose extra weight.


Massachusetts is the most violent state in the Northeast region, including New York and New Jersey. Servais blames this, in part, on cuts to crime-prevention programs.

"We are really not putting together coalitions and partnerships and working with police and churches and various groups to try to bring these numbers down," Servais said. "We were doing better a few years ago, but a lot of it had to do with funding problems."

This statistic can speak for itself: Young black men have a 36 times higher rate of death by homicide than do young white men.

The Massachusetts Health Council presents its report Tuesday to lawmakers at the State House. The goal, Servais says, is to provide policy makers with a comprehensive, but easily digestible, picture of health in Massachusetts. Advocates hope that lawmakers will use the information to shape legislation that will tackle the most pressing, but preventable, health issues in the state.

-- Here's the full report (on Scribd):


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