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In this Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012 photo, Zendi Solano, center, trains with running club members Rian Barrett, second from right, and Richard Chen in Pasadena, Calif. Dr. Robert Sallis says some patients may not be aware that research shows physical inactivity is riskier than high blood pressure, obesity and other health risks people know they should avoid. As recently as November 2012, a government-led study concluded that people who routinely exercise live longer than others, even if they're overweight. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

When it comes to overall health, California has some opportunities for improvement.

That's according to the 23rd annual America's Health Rankings from United Health Foundation. The report, the longest running of its kind in the country, placed California No. 22 among all 50 states for overall heath.

Here's a snapshot of how California -- compared to the other states -- fared in this year's report:

California's strengths: low prevalence of smoking; low prevalence of obesity and sedentary lifestyle; and low infant mortality rate.

California's challenges: high levels of air pollution; low high school graduation rate; and high incidence of infectious disease.

California residents are getting some things right. While we should take a moment to congratulate ourselves for these successes, we can't take continued progress for granted. Significant challenges remain.

When United Health Foundation first began ranking American's health in 1990, smoking represented one such challenge.

About 25 percent of Californians over age of 18 smoked regularly. But education brought greater understanding of the risks associated with lighting up.

We turned attitudes against it, and today, just 13.7 percent of Californians self-report as smokers. We demonstrated that change is indeed possible, in the process helping many people improve their health and well-being and saving millions of dollars in health care costs.


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On the other hand, too many California residents are overweight or obese -- and the trend is getting worse. Nearly 24 percent of California residents are above what is considered by health experts to be a normal weight, compared with about 10 percent when the rankings began.

As UnitedHealthcare's medical director for California, I have witnessed efforts statewide on behalf of the public and private sectors to improve certain health trends, such as immunization coverage, and to improve our overall health outcomes, such as reducing cardiovascular deaths.

Together, we can help to improve the overall health of California's residents. Together, we can break down barriers to high-quality care. Together, we can take on obesity as we took on smoking. And we can win. It will take work, certainly, and time, but our health is worth that effort.

For more information about America's Health Rankings, please go to www.americashealthrankings.org.

William Olson, M.D., is market medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Northern California. He is based out of Concord.