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Despite having made progress on important health indicators including regular medical check-ups, life expectancy and fluoridated water, Arkansas remains close to last in the nation on many important health measures.
Good health begins in the womb, and Arkansas’ rate of early prenatal care has increased slightly in the past couple years, rising from 56% of births in 2014 to 69% of births in 2018. The increase has been particularly sharp for blacks, though their early prenatal care rates still trail those of whites. Despite this increase, Arkansas was 47th in the nation.
Arkansas was 49th in the nation in infant mortality, with a five-year average rate of 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. That was a decline of 9% from 2003 but infant mortality was particularly high among African American infants at 11.1, compared to 5.2 for Hispanics, 6.6 for whites and 7.3 for Asian or Pacific Islanders.
Arkansas adults are the most inactive in the nation, with 31% saying they did not participate in a leisure-time physical activity in the last 30 days. That was 7 percentage points higher than the national rate, and women were less active (33%) than men (28%). Nearly 70% of adults and 39% of students were overweight or obese.
The state also had a high smoking rate, with 23% of adults saying they smoke, a decline of 4 points from 2011 but 6 points above the national rate, making Arkansas 49th in the nation. About 20% of youth reported ever having used a drug, including tobacco or alcohol, down 7 percentage points from 2011.
On the positive side, the state has achieved a huge increase in the share of residents on systems with fluoridated water, which helps prevent dental problems. The rate rose from 48% in 2000 to 86% in 2018. However, there are still counties with no fluoridated systems. The share of adults receiving dental care annually also increased, by 3 points to 58%.
Similarly, the share of adults having a regular medical checkup increased 10 points to 87%, giving Arkansas a relatively high ranking of 31th in the nation. And 88% of residents had health insurance, up from 76% in 2011 and similar to the nation due to a large increase in 2014 following implementation of the Affordable Care Act and expansion of Medicaid.
Life expectancy increased by 3 years to 76 –up 3 years from 1980 but below the national figure of 79. This makes Arkansas 46th in the nation on this indicator. Life expectancy in 2017 was higher for women in Arkansas than men at 79 vs. 73 years.
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