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Minnesota was once the healthiest state in the nation, so why are we slipping?

Minnesota's health is great... but we're no longer the best. What happened?

Minnesota's health is great... but we're no longer the best. What happened? Getty Images/iStockphoto

Minnesota has ranked in the top 10 healthiest states in the nation for three decades straight at least, according to data from the United Health Foundation. We’ve even been no. 1 a handful of times -- including a pretty sweet winning streak in the early 2000s. (This year, it’s Hawaii.)

What can we say? We have bangin’ heart health, and a bunch of us have health insurance. Overall, we’re doing great.

But recently, we’ve been on a pretty steady downward slide. Between the year 2000 and 2018, we’ve slipped from no. 1 to no. 7 in terms of our overall health. Again, that’s still top-10 material, but only three other states -- Oregon, Alaska, and Wyoming, according to MPR’s analysis of the data -- have experienced a bigger slump.

So what are we doing wrong?

Well, as great as our heart health is (no. 1) and as well-covered our people are (no. 4) we’ve got our weak points.

For starters, we rank fifth in the nation for excessive drinking in adults -- including about 17 percent of women and 27 percent of men in the state. It’s a problem we share with the rest of the Midwest. Our neighbor, Wisconsin, actually ended up with the highest rate this year.

We’re also the third worst state at getting our kids vaccinated. We took a dive between 2016 and 2018, dropping from about a 74 percent child vaccination rate to 66 percent. Which should raise a few eyebrows, because nationally, child vaccination has been trending upward. We’re now sitting below the national average.

One of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the past 10 years is in the number of people who have died from drug use. The tally has doubled, climbing steadily nearly every year since 2007. It’s a burden that’s fallen hardest on the state’s American Indian and Alaska Native populations, with nearly 50 drug-related deaths per every 100,000 people. Compare that to the 10 deaths per every 100,000 white people.

Not everything’s looking grim. The number of children in poverty has decreased 19 percent. But if this report tells us anything, it’s that we have no room to be complacent. Even in the top 10, we have our share of problems. How we respond to them will determine where we’re standing by the time next year rolls around.