December 01st, 2023

united healthcareELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times


The health of people in the U.S. has become a point of discussion in many circles and recently, the America’s Health Rankings report from UnitedHealthcare showed some rather interesting findings.

“We have a very general American health rankings but the one that’s particularly interesting is the one with seniors, Dr. Tony Sun, the Medical Director for UnitedHealthcare  in Kansas, said. “One of the key findings of the report this year is in rural areas, senior citizens are less likely to be physically active, they’re more likely to fall, which is the most common way hip fractures happen, and less likely to receive the flu vaccination. Those are three key areas that stood out because in the Kansas rankings, those are some of the challenges we have: physical activity, preventing falls and making sure vaccines are received.”

A news release through UnitedHealthcare went into some more detail about those findings. 

“This year’s report quantifies poorer health outcomes among seniors in rural areas,” the release noted. “The study showed suicide rates are up 12 percent among seniors nationally since the 2014 edition, and social isolation is associated with poor health status and higher mortality, research shows. Key findings across states show that rural seniors are: more likely to be physically inactive (34.3 percent compared to 30.4 percent in suburban and 30.1 percent in urban areas); more likely to report a fall (32.4 percent compared to 28.5 percent in suburban areas and 29.5 percent in urban areas); 7 percent less likely to report receiving a flu vaccination than urban seniors (57.2 percent vs. 61.4 percent, respectively); and less likely to receive health screenings compared with both suburban and urban seniors (66.4 percent vs. 74.3 percent and 75.3 percent, respectively).”

Overall, Sun said, those findings were interesting to find for this year and said there are many factors those results could be attributed to.

“In many ways, rural areas have less of the resources required than urban areas, and that doesn’t necessarily mean those resources couldn’t be made available,” Sun said. “This report is so important because it really puts not only rankings in place but also answers the question of what can be done about them. In the past, we’ve done this report on all these measurable things and the report is great and the data is there to drive us but if it just sits there it’s not doing anything and then there’s no move toward action. It’s incumbent on us to get this out and get folks more active and prevent certain health issues from happening. We had a particularly rough flu season this year and we always encourage getting the vaccine especially in people older than 65.”

There are also several strengths and weaknesses seen in the report. With Kansas, strengths seen in the report are a high percentage of volunteerism, a low prevalence of frequent mental distress, and a high home-delivered meals rate. The weaknesses found through the report include low enrollment for SNAP benefits, low flu vaccination coverage and a high hip fracture hospitalization rate. 

“There are multiple factors going into that and the numbers fell nationally, not just in Kansas,” Sun said, referring to the findings on the flu vaccination rate. “There’s still quite a bit that’s being looked into with the vaccines and we had such a great trend in increases for a while and then people took their eye off the ball and decided for whatever reason to not get it, leading to less urgency in getting vaccinated. This year taught us another lesson as far as vaccines being the best way to prevent getting the flu. Even though they could contract other illnesses, the vaccinations were instrumental in preventing the flu.”

Sun also talked about the importance of getting this information together, which is done to help communities in the U.S. be able to help their citizens.

“At UnitedHealthcare our mission is to help people live healthier lives. It’s about health, not just healthcare,” Sun said. “This report not only reflects the various aspects of health but also shows the behavioral trends and community/environment trends of health with the clinical care. All of this is encompassed in health and we see many community efforts to help improve health, which really drives the importance of the overall wellness of a person. All of those factors come together to help the health of not just seniors but people overall, and that’s why we put this report together. The goal of this report is to help communities, senior citizens in particular and their families, to have a better understanding of health concerns and how we can all work together to address them. We’re all in this together and while there are some challenges that will be worked on as a result of this report, we’re also proud of the strengths we were able to find – in Kansas especially, there’s such a high rate of volunteerism, so people who are volunteering and not being socially isolated are seeing great success and because of that, there’s also a low level of mental distress.”