School faculty members take lead in reporting America’s Health Rankings

December 14, 2012
Faculty members at Gillings School of Global Public Health at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill were instrumental advisers in the development and review of the recently released 2012 America’s Health Rankings®. First offered in 1990, the rankings analyze and report on the nation’s health on a state-by-state basis.United Health Foundation, in concert with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention, first commissioned the Gillings School of Global Public Health to undertake the ongoing review of the rankings in 2002.

Dr. Anna Schenck

Dr. Anna Schenck

Anna Schenck, PhD, associate dean for public health practice at the School, chaired this year’s health rankings Scientific Advisory Committee. She also served as chair in 2010 and 2011.

“We are proud to play a role in the America’s Health Rankings®,” Schenck said. “For 23 years, it has served as an important tool to promote discussion and action to improve public health.”Schenck also directs the UNC public health school’s Public Health Leadership Program and North Carolina Institute for Public Health.

Other faculty members on the advisory committee include Jamie Bartram, PhD, Holzworth Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering and director of The Water Institute at UNC; Leah Devlin, DDS, MPH, Professor of the Practice of health policy and management; Marisa Domino, PhD, professor of health policy and management; Anne-Marie Meyer, PhD, epidemiologist at the N.C. Institute for Public Health’s N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness and facilities director of the Integrated Cancer Information and Surveillance System at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center; and Thomas C. Ricketts, PhD, MPH, professor of health policy and management at the public health school and of social medicine in the UNC School of Medicine, who chaired the committee from 2002 to 2009.

The longest-running report of its kind, America’s Health Rankings® uses 24 measures of health in its analysis, including the prevalence of diseases, levels of poverty and crime, numbers of premature and infant deaths, and others.

This infographic summarizes the findings for North Carolina. Click to enlarge and to see infographics for all 50 states.

This infographic summarizes the findings for North Carolina. Click to enlarge and to see infographics for all 50 states.

While the incidence of major causes of mortality such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and violent crime have decreased since America’s Health Rankings® were offered first, the 2012 rankings show that the United States still faces a number of health challenges. Among those are the high numbers of children living in poverty (21.4 percent), people without health insurance (16 percent) and young children who have not received key immunizations (10.5 percent).

North Carolina’s overall ranking was #33 among the 50 states. Relative to other states, North Carolina had low incidence of binge drinking and infectious diseases, but the state’s health challenges include low public health funding, high prevalence of diabetes (10.9 percent of the adult population) and a high infant mortality rate.
Obesity and lack of physical activity are areas in which African-Americans in the state face significant health disparities. Non-Hispanic blacks (42.9 percent) are more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites (26.5 percent) or Hispanics (24.8 percent). Sedentary lifestyle is more prevalent among blacks (32.6 percent) than whites (24.4 percent).One of the underlying data sources for America’s Health Rankings® underwent significant changes in the last year and required a new baseline to be established. The new baseline causes information from previous years to be not comparable to this year’s report.
CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a telephone survey of nearly half a million households and the source for seven of the measures in the overall index, introduced two major changes in their most recent data release to improve the estimates of behaviors in a state’s population. These changes altered both the household selection process and the analysis methodology to better reflect the growth of households without a land-line telephone and the increasing diversity of households within a state.
This has caused the reported prevalence of many of the behavior measures, such as smoking, obesity, binge drinking and diabetes, to be reported as higher this year than last year. This may or may not reflect an actual change in the behavior being measured, but it does represent a dramatic improvement in how well the estimates measure the behaviors. The new estimates are superior to estimates collected in prior years and set the standard going forward as the new baseline.
The ultimate purpose of America’s Health Rankings® is to stimulate action by individuals, elected officials, medical professionals, public health professionals, employers, educators and communities to improve the health of the population of the United States through the promotion of public conversation concerning health in our states, as well as provision of information to facilitate citizen, community and group participation.
To see the rankings in full, visit



UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or