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How Healthy Is America?

They may live in the dairy state, but Wisconsin residents have a thirst for alcohol - enough to lead the nation when it comes to drinkers per capita and imbibers who admit to binge drinking.

More than half of Georgians call themselves sedentary, while Californians buckle up more than other Americans - only 12.8 percent say they don't use a seat belt when they drive.

The findings come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on Thursday released a survey of health behavior broken down by race and ethnic groups for each state and Puerto Rico.

The numbers, compiled from 1997 telephone interviews with 134,000 people, highlight continuing disparities between whites and other racial groups when it comes to factors such as high blood pressure, obesity and lack of access to medical care.

The report, which contains data on 20 health topics, is the first time the CDC has put together such a wide range of information for each state on a comparative basis, said the report's author, Julie Bolen of the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

"This is the first time we've put it all under one cover to compare states," she said. "It's a good chance for people across the country to see how they're doing."

The report is intended to help state health departments compare prevention activities and see which are successful. The Clinton administration wants to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities by 2010 in six areas: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV and AIDS, immunization and infant mortality.

Bolen said the report should help advance that goal, especially as non-whites are projected to make up nearly half the U.S. population by 2050.

The survey topics included Pap tests, seat belt use and cigarette smoking.

Wisconsin's per capita drinking rate of 70.4 percent was ahead of all the states; Puerto Ricans drank the least, 26.6 percent, followed closely by Utah and Tennessee.

When drinking was defined as having a drink in the past month, Utah and Puerto Rico reported the smallest figures. In Maryland, only 6.3 percent admitted to binge drinking, or having five or more drinks on a single occasion. That was the lowest binge-drinking rate in the nation.

Texas led the nation in the percentage of uninsured residents; nearly half of the state's Hispanics 44.9 percent said they had no health insurance. Only 6.1 percent of Hawaiians said they had no insurance.

The report found bad news concerning colorectal cancer screening. Less than one-third of adults over 50 reported having completed a home blood stool test, with 18 percent the median response. Maine led the country in such screening, with 28.5 percent. Only 9.3 percent of Mississippi residents had performed such a test.

Women in Georgia reported the highest rate of having a Pap test within the preceding three years - 92 percent - while Puerto Ricans were the lowest at 71.8 percent.

Georgans copped to being the least physically active, with more than 51 percent reporting no leisure-time physical activity in the past month. Utah had the highest activity rate, with only 17.2 percent reporting no physical activity.

The CDC said socioeconomic factors and education levels are believed to be responsible for the differences between the groups. People with more education generally have higher-paying jobs and are then more likely to have health insurance and use the health care system.

The survey is limited by how honest survey participants were. For example, obesity rates were calculated based on how tall and heavy people described themselves.

"I would guess that plenty of us minimize our weight. I doubt anybody's going to tell you they weigh more than they do," Bolen said, calling the obesity figures "conservative estimates."

The obesity rate was lowest in Colorado at 11.9 percent.

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