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NH's senior citizens enjoy top quality of life: Study

Staff report
December 02. 2012 1:05AM

We all know we should eat better, stay fit and be active. Now a recent study offers more proof of the powerful effects these behaviors - and others - have on maintaining good health as we age.

The study - which ranks New Hampshire senior citizens top in the country in terms of health-related quality of life - was presented at the Gerontological Society of America's annual meeting held Nov. 14-18 in San Diego, Calif.

"Healthy lifestyle is probably the major factor that is contributing to the quality of life," the study's lead author, Diana Kachan, said in an interview last week.

"Keep on exercising and not smoking and not drinking too much," Kachan stressed. Kachan is a third-year doctoral student at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine where she is also a medical student.

Authors of the study, titled "Health-Related Quality of Life in Older U.S. Adults: A Regional Comparison," discovered being unable to work and unemployed are also associated with poorer quality of health.

They analyzed nearly 80,000 adults at least 65 years old from the pooled 1997-2010 National Health Interview Survey, Kachan said.

Those studied were scored on a scale of 0 to 1 - with 1 representing perfect health and 0 the equivalent to death. The study has 5 percent margin of error.

Authors grouped older Americans by region and state and ranked them according to how healthy they perceived themselves and their responses to questions about needing help with personal care and routine needs, inability to work due to a health problem or limited in the kind of work they could perform.

The average score - called the health activities limitation index - for people across the nation was 0.73, said Kachan.

New Hampshire ranked highest with 0.79, though Nevada and Delaware came in so close behind that there were no difference in their ratings when the numbers were rounded out, she said.

Speculating on why New Hampshire elders enjoyed better health, Kachan said: "It probably has to do with population composition, access to health care, and it's generally easier to for people to get around and lead their lives. There are more opportunities for people to stay active, so they stay healthier longer."

The Northeast in general "ranked pretty high in this health-related quality of life" study, she noted.

African-Americans and Hispanics tended to experience poorer health compared to their Caucasian counterparts, Kachan said. Those with lower levels of education, the unemployed, former or current smokers also experienced poorer quality of life, she added.

The South, she added, ranked was ranked the least healthy region. Alaska came in last with a rating of 0.62 rating, followed by Alabama and West Virginia at 0.66 each.

The study is intended to help policy-makers target resources to areas with higher rates of death and chronic disease, Kachan said. Healthier states and regions also could serve as models for other areas, she added.

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