National Report: Nevada Getting Healthier

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A national study released Monday shows that Nevada is a little healthier than it was a year ago - now in 36th place among the states compared with 38th place in 2002.

The report from the nonprofit United Health Foundation also shows that Nevada is well above its 46th place ranking in 1990, the first year of the foundation's annual reports.

The latest report terms Minnesota and New Hampshire as the nation's healthiest states, while Mississippi and Louisiana ranked as the least healthy.

The report ranks states based on key public health indicators. Overall, the study said health in the United States has improved 1.4 percent since last year and 16.9 percent since 1990.

Local health officials said they're pleased to see the report highlight that cigarette use is down - the prime reason for Nevada's improvement. But the high number of Nevadans without health insurance remains a major problem. Nevada has the third highest percentage of residents who are uninsured, 19.7 percent.

"The uninsured statistic is very troubling," said Fran Courtney, a registered nurse and director of nursing and clinics for the Clark County Health District.

"That statistic reflects that people most likely are not coming in for preventative care - screenings that identify problems in their early stages, such as cancer, or for immunization or well-baby care. It also reflects that people have to use emergency rooms as their primary care physicians."

One of the driving factors in Nevada's overall improvement is that people are giving up cigarettes. In 1990, Nevada ranked worst in the nation with nearly 36 percent of the population lighting up. That's now down to 26 percent.

"We're absolutely pleased to see this improvement, but we have a lot of work to do," said Kendall Stagg, executive director of the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition, comprised of 45 organizations.

Stagg noted that Nevada still has one of the highest per-capita cancer death rates in the nation.

The United Health Foundation study also points out that in Nevada there are 219 cancer deaths per 100,000 population, the sixth highest rate among the states.

"Smoking is the No. 1 risk factor for cancer," Stagg said. "Every year in Nevada more people die from smoking than from AIDS, murder, suicide, car accidents, illegal drug use and alcohol combined. That is why such a small improvement (in statistics) makes a huge gain."

Buffy Martin, the American Cancer Society's government relations director for Nevada, said the Legislature's increase of the cigarette excise tax this year, to 80 cents per pack from 35 cents per pack, helps to cut smoking among young people.

"One of our greatest impacts with the increase in the excise tax (that went into effect in July) has been on the youth, who are reaching the point they cannot afford cigarettes anymore," Martin said.