New Rankings Show CA Last in Available Housing, Air Pollution

U.S. Death Rate Jumped 17% During Pandemic
California recently created a "smog check" program on heavy-duty trucks. The state ranks worst in the nation for air pollution in a new report. Photo Credit: Meeboonstudio / Adobe Stock

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

The U.S. death rate soared 17% from 2019 to 2020, with COVID-19 largely responsible, according to the new America’s Health Rankings 2021 annual report from UnitedHealthcare.

The report covers a wide range of health indicators, and said Californians smoke less, live longer and have fewer chronic conditions compared to people in other states. However, the Golden State ranks worst in the nation for air pollution.

Will Barrett, national senior director for clean air advocacy with the American Lung Association, said the state needs to make it easier to walk or take public transit.

“The transportation sector generates approximately 80% of the smog-forming pollution in California, and also about half of the greenhouse gas emissions that increase climate change,” Barrett reported.

California struggles with many social determinants of health, ranking 49th for severe housing problems and 43rd for income inequality. On the plus side, researchers found binge-drinking has dropped as bars closed during the lockdown, and more people report being in good overall health.

Cancer diagnoses decreased by 7%, but routine cancer screenings dropped even more, leaving experts to wonder if there are simply more undiagnosed cases.

Dr. Nicole Brady, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare, said everyone should dial up their doctor.

“Get back in to see our providers,” Brady urged. “Have our usual annual wellness visits with them, and make sure that we’re up-to-date on all of our health screenings, like breast cancer and colon cancer screenings.”

The report ranked California dead last for colorectal cancer screenings, and 48th for primary care providers per capita.