For employers, New Jersey's high ranking in the UnitedHealth Foundation's annual America's Health Rankings report is good news, with a caveat.
New Jersey improved from being ranked 17th in the nation for overall state health to No. 8 — the largest improvement made by any state.
"It's overall good news, because we've made improvements, but there's still a lot of areas we can continue to improve on," said Michael McGuire, CEO of UnitedHealth.
New Jersey received high marks for lower rates of obesity and smoking than other states, which is something McGuire attributed to employers and insurers instituting wellness programs to coincide with health benefits.
"As we work with employers at UnitedHealth, we look at what programs can we give to employers to their employees to live a better lifestyle and healthier lifestyle," McGuire said, adding that health risk assessments, diabetes programming and smoking cessation programs are part of the insurers strategies to attack "all of the drivers of risk and cost that an employer would be concerned about."
Dr. Anju Sikka, medical director for UnitedHealth, said behavioral issues — like smoking and sedentary lifestyles — are just as important as medical issues when looking at the state's health picture, and "employers have a key role in it."
New Jersey's decrease in preventable hospitalizations and infant mortality over the past five years also has contributed to the state's high ranking. Some of the challenges New Jersey faces include a large uninsured population, ranked in the bottom half of all states, as well as an increase in the number of children in the state living in poverty, which increased by 36 percent from 2011 to 2012.