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America’s bad habits exposed _ state by state

July 31, 1997

ATLANTA (AP) _ It’s no surprise that Kentucky, a top tobacco state, has the nation’s highest percentage of smokers, or that Wisconsin, with a rich history of brewing beer, is the heartland of binge drinking.

But Washington, D.C., the capital of couch potatoes?

The government released a state-by-state list of poor health habits Thursday, a gauge of risks for chronic disease and causes of death around the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the report may even underestimate health problems because not everyone is eager to confess their habits.

In Kentucky, 27.8 percent of those surveyed said they smoked cigarettes, the highest among all states. Greg Lawther of the Kentucky Department of Public Health sighed when he heard that Utah’s percentage of 13.2 percent was the lowest.

``We don’t want our state to be on the top of that list,″ Lawther said. ``But it’s pretty compelling evidence that we’ve got more smokers than anybody. It helps us realize how significant smoking is in this state.″

Wisconsin may be the dairy land, but drinking milk is not the problem there: 22.9 percent of adults are binge drinkers _ more than five drinks at one sitting. Tennessee had the lowest number of binge drinkers _ 5.2 percent.

And when it comes to working out, 48.6 percent of those surveyed in the nation’s capital don’t exercise. They might take a clue from the West _ in Colorado, a mere 17.2 percent of adults are sedentary.

The report is based on telephone surveys of 1,200 to 4,400 people over age 18 in each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands. The report combines findings for 1994 and 1995.

While the CDC didn’t explain the reasons behind the state differences, it said the report helps states plan programs to fight health problems. Many have found the numbers useful when applying for federal grants.

In Oregon, for example, previous reports helped the state get money for an office devoted to chronic diseases. And in Arkansas, where 35.1 percent of adults are inactive, the numbers fueled a governor’s physical fitness campaign.

Insurance companies also use the numbers to compare the behavior of adults who are and aren’t insured, said Eve Powell-Griner, a CDC statistician.

And the report isn’t all about bad behavior. Seat belt use, for example was also listed for each state. The highest was Hawaii, where 86.9 percent of adults said they buckled up. North Dakota was the lowest, at 41.4 percent.

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