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Rankings Reveal Senior Health Priorities

  • Nearly 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition.
  • The cost of health care for seniors is straining the U.S. economy.
  • Findings from the "2013 Senior Report from America’s Health Rankings,” published by the United Health Foundation, offer state-by-state measurements that could drive coordinated solutions.

Panel Identifies Key Actions States
Must Take to Improve Senior Health

In 2011, the first wave of more than 70 million baby boomers turned 65, marking the beginning of a tremendous demographic shift in the U.S. population. The group of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to grow by more than 50 percent over the next 15 years. Yet, even with significant gains in longevity, the health status among older adults is poor. Nearly 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition, and the number of adults in very good or excellent health ages 50-64 decreased 1.7 percent between 1995 and 2010.

With people living longer yet developing chronic diseases earlier in life, health care providers and family caregivers must scramble to provide assistance—and the national economy could take a hit. Annual Medicare spending is expected to increase by 90 percent over the next decade, from $557 billion in 2012 to more than $1 trillion in 2023, according to a May 2013 Congressional Budget Office report.

Health care decision-makers must take action to improve the health and well-being of seniors, but where do we start?

A 2013 report from the United Health Foundation, “America’s Health Rankings® Senior Report: A Call to Action for Individuals & Their Communities,” reveals the most critical areas to address right away. The report provides critical data about where states stand on important senior health measures.

Review of the Challenges

To create the report, a panel of public health experts examined 34 measures of senior health and well-being. A separate group of researchers then explored the health of seniors in each state, based on these 34 measures.

The results revealed that seniors across states are struggling with these unique challenges:

  • Obesity: More than a quarter of adults ages 65 and older are obese. And the incoming wave of seniors is more likely to be obese than today’s seniors.
  • Inactivity: More than 30 percent of seniors who report being in “fair or better” health are not physically active.
  • Food insecurity: Older adults are at an increased risk of hunger due to limited incomes, and 13.6 percent of U.S. adults ages 60 and older currently experience issues with access and/or availability of food.
  • Flu vaccine: Because seniors are at a higher risk of contracting the flu, getting an annual flu vaccine is critical to their health and well-being. Yet, only 60.6 percent of adults ages 65 and older received a flu shot within the past year.
  • Poverty: On average, 9.3 percent of U.S. adults ages 65 and older live in poverty.
  • Low-care nursing home residents: Today, 12.2 percent of nursing home residents require little physical support but live in nursing homes, representing a mismatch between the needs of residents and the capabilities of nursing homes.

Partnering to Address Key Challenges

Seniors play a crucial role in the family, and seniors who are struggling with health issues cannot fully contribute their wisdom to the younger generations. UnitedHealthcare Community & State is committed to being a part of the solution to improve senior health at the state and community levels.

The United Health Foundation report identified priority areas for action, giving leaders specific ways to start improving senior health:

  • Health behaviors including physical inactivity, chronic drinking and smoking.
  • Policy measures including credible drug coverage, the number of geriatricians available to seniors and policies for low-care nursing home residents.
  • Community and environmental issues including poverty, volunteerism, nursing home quality, food insecurity, emotional and social support for seniors, and per-capital community spending on seniors.
  • Clinical care measures including flu shots, diabetes management and hospital readmissions.

Ready to dig deeper into the rankings and figure out what this might mean for your state? Download the complete 2013 report at While there, look for suggested actions to take, success stories and custom reports by state.