New Jerseyans are living a healthier lifestyle. The state ranks 8th in the nation for overall health, according to data released by the United Health Foundation.

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The state made progress in areas of smoking cessation and infant and maternity care. But it also has its challenges, such as an increase in the number of children living in poverty.

The rankings also proved that even in areas where the state performed relatively well compared to other states, there is still much work to be done. For example, while New Jersey ranked 4th in the nation for low rates of obesity, the percentage of the population that is obese continues to grow.

"There are still a quarter of adults in New Jersey who are obese and that is an area that the state needs to continue to address," said Dr. Anju Sikka, medical director at United Health Foundation.

New Jersey Deputy Health Commissioner Arturo Brito said he's pleased with the report's findings, but acknowledges that the state has room to improve. "We need to a better job when it comes to physical activity and eating nutritious food."

New Jersey's worst-ranked category was the number of people uninsured. More than 15 percent of state residents lack health insurance.

"If you're going to address the issue of lack of health insurance, then you have to address the issue of public health funding, which dropped this year," said Dr. Sikka.

Highlights:

New Jersey has one of the lowest smoking rates in the U.S.; however, more than 1.1 million adults still smoke in the state.

In the past year, the percentage of children in poverty rose from 12.8 percent to 17.4 percent of persons under age 18. In 2002, it was 9.1 percent.

Public health funding decreased from $69 to $65 per person in the last year.

In the past 5 years, the rate of preventable hospitalizations declined from 83.9 to 68.8 discharges per 1,000 Medicare enrollees.

In the past 10 years, the infant mortality rate decreased from 6.5 to 5.3 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Health Disparities:

In New Jersey, sedentary lifestyle is more prevalent among Hispanics at 36.9 percent than non-Hispanic whites at 22.7 percent; and obesity is more prevalent among non-Hispanic blacks at 36.0 percent than Hispanics at 27.8 percent and non- Hispanic whites at 23.3 percent.

Vermont is the healthiest state for the 6th year in a row, Mississippi and Louisiana tie for last.

The full rankings are available online.