A newly released state-by-state health report card shows Georgia moving up — from 38th to 36th. America’s Health Rankings track states on 24 measures,...

A newly released state-by-state health report card shows Georgia moving up — from 38th to 36th.

America’s Health Rankings track states on 24 measures, from obesity, smoking and diabetes to lack of health insurance, infant mortality and air pollution.

Vermont was judged the healthiest state, while Louisiana and Mississippi were tied at the bottom at 49th.

The same rankings had Georgia at 43rd as recently as 2009.

The report is jointly published by United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.

Nationally, the data show that premature, cardiovascular and cancer deaths have declined since 1990. But Americans now have troubling levels of obesity (27.8 percent of the adult population), diabetes (9.5 percent), high blood pressure (30.8 percent) and sedentary lifestyles (26.2 percent), the report said.

Neale Chumbler of the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia said Thursday that the data show a mixed message for the state. He noted the higher ranking for Georgia but also said, “There’s a lot of room for improvement.’’

The report said the state has 2 million adults who are obese, and nearly 750,000 adult Georgians have diabetes.

Obesity often leads to diabetes, hypertension and stroke, noted Chumbler, who is head of the Department of Health Policy and Management in the College of Public Health.

The state is looking to reduce its obesity rate through the SHAPE initiative, announced by Gov. Nathan Deal, that combines the work of state agencies with health providers and philanthropic groups.

Georgia also has a high infant mortality rate and a high prevalence of low-birthweight babies. The state Department of Public Health is seeking to lower those rates and that of preterm births, working with partners such as hospitals and the March of Dimes.

“With a clear focus on four priority areas — childhood obesity, infant mortality, increasing immunization rates and decreasing smoking rates — we are aggressively working to address central issues that affect the health of Georgians,” said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, in a statement Thursday responding to the rankings.

“We are especially pleased that over the past 10 years we have reduced our infant mortality rate from 8.4 to 7.7 deaths per 1000 live births,’’ she added. “And we are striving to push that number even lower.”

The report listed a low prevalence of binge drinking and a high immunization rate as Georgia’s strengths.

Here’s a link to the state’s data, which include:

* A lower-than-average percentage getting a high school diploma in four years.

* A rate of uninsured people that has climbed from 15 percent a decade ago to 19.3 percent.

* High levels of air pollution.

* Significant health disparities, including a higher rate of obesity among blacks (compared to whites).

In many such health report cards, Southern states typically rank at or near the bottom.

UGA’s Chumbler says that among factors lowering the Southeast scores are higher levels of smoking and people without health insurance.

Where people live also plays a part, he said, noting that some areas offer little opportunity for exercise. ”You may live in an unsafe neighborhood or not have sidewalks,’’ he said.

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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