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Wisconsin, Minnesota lead U.S. for 'excessive drinking'... among the olds

Is this woman toasting how well Minnesota and Wisconsin did on this "senior living" health report? Perhaps she shouldn't...

Is this woman toasting how well Minnesota and Wisconsin did on this "senior living" health report? Perhaps she shouldn't... Getty Images/iStockphoto

Minnesota and Wisconsin are among the better places for elderly Americans to live a healthy life, on balance.

In a related note, balance is an especially important consideration for seniors contributing to those states' startlingly high rates of "excessive drinking."

These are two takeaways from a new report from United Health Foundation, which released the 2018 volume of its annual "Senior Report" last week. Minnesota ranks fourth overall in health among the 65-and-up crowd, behind Utah, Hawaii, and New Hampshire; Colorado rounds out the top five. (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana, in that order, make up the last five states in this ranking.)

The No. 4 finish marks a slight drop for Minnesota, which last year came in first place overall. Minnesota does still top the nation in the category of "health outcomes" -- which sounds like an important one! -- and doesn't have a particularly bad ranking across five categories under review. The state's worst category was "policy," where Minnesota came in 18th, with its score hurt in part by insufficient use of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) among those eligible.

Seniors may not apply for SNAP benefits because they don't realize they're eligible, or because of "social stigma" against taking handouts. Then again, given the relative ease with which a large percentage of residents approach retirement age, maybe Minnesotans just want to leave those benefits for people who really need them. (Except this prick.) 

Under the "behaviors" category, where Minnesota ranks 14th overall, the state's seniors get high marks for annual dental visits (76 percent reported seeing a dentist last year, good for the No. 2 ranking) and volunteerism rate (about 37 percent of seniors had volunteered, also good for No. 2), and in "physical activity," where about 75 percent of Minnesotans (No. 11 ranking) reported some form of physical activity during the previous month.

On one behavior category, though, Minnesotans are all the way down near the bottom of the rankings. It turns out those drinking sessions your wild aunt Maureen calls "just us, y'know, old-timers just having, y'know, having a good time," United Health Foundation calls an unhealthy habit. 

Some 9.2 percent of Minnesota seniors copped to either "binge drinking" (four or more drinks in one sitting for women, five for men) or "chronic drinking" (eight or more a week for women, or 15 or more for men) during the previous month. That's tied with Hawaii for the second-highest rate in the whole damn country.

Highest? You might want to be sitting down for this; if you're from a certain Upper Midwest state, remember to double-check that there's actually a chair behind you first.

It's Wisconsin, of course, and it's not close: A whopping 11.2 percent of 'Sconnie seniors practiced binge drinking or chronic drinking. For comparison's sake, the national average is about 7.1 percent, and Utah (with its high percentage of teetotalling Mormons) reports an excessive drinking rate of only 2.6 percent among its olds.

Then again, the other least-drinkin'-est states are not ones Minnesota wants to trade places with in the these rankings. If anything, the correlation runs the other way: West Virginia (No. 2 in least drinking, No. 45 overall), Oklahoma (No. 3 least drinking, No. 46 overall), Mississippi (No. 4, No. 49), and Arkansas (No. 5, No. 46) all combine low rates of senior drinking with poor scores across the rest of the board.

Wisconsin, for all of its old person-guzzling, finished No. 12 overall. 

Looking at this list... can we really be sure drinking's bad for you?

Yes, say the buzzkills at United Health Foundation. "Excessive" boozing is associated with "injury, chronic disease, dementia," and other ailments.

Seniors are more than twice as likely to die from an "alcohol-attributed" death than the general population, and roughly 16 times more likely to start a story with "Did I ever tell you kids about the time..." when they totally did, like, a hundred times already, Grandpa.