# Measuring health levels in the U.S.

Andrey Kamenov, Ph.D. Probability and Statistics

A question in a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked a respondent to assess his or her own health. Just one in every six people considered their own health “excellent;” most stuck to “very good” or even just “good.” But how do we use this data to visualize the relationship between health levels and other factors?

The problem is, the scale itself is not quantitative. It doesn’t explicitly state how much better “good” is than “fair.”

In order to measure the health levels of specific groups in the general population, we’ll use a quite common procedure. It provides values between 0 percent (meaning all respondents have poor health) and 100 percent (where everyone has excellent health). The exact values of everything in between are based on the (empirical) nationwide percentages.

Let’s see how our health index fares against two of the most obvious factors. The first chart shows the speed of peoples’ self-perceived decline in health with age:

As you can see, the health index values are similar for men and women in their early 20s, but men become much more critical of their health in their 30s.

By their late 50s, the health index values drop as low as 14 percent for men and 16 percent for women, showing predominantly “fair” and “poor” assessments.

Next, Body Mass Index:

Here we see another illustration of a well-known fact: The optimal Body Mass Index is slightly lower for women than for men (by around 2 points). The sweet spot is 20 for women and 22 for men, while the optimal range (Health Index > 50 percent) is 17.5 to 27.5 for women and 20 to 29 for men. But of course, it goes without saying that the optimal ranges are different for very short or tall people, as well as the athletes among us.

Of course, we can’t skip another question: Which state is the healthiest?

## U.S. health levels by state

The list is topped by states in New England: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut are all in the top five, joined only by Utah. The lowest values are observed in West Virginia, Arkansas and Kentucky.

It’s also interesting to note that two of the most populous states, California and New York, share exceptionally close values — the former has higher health levels for men, while women are healthier in the latter.

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