Maine moved up a spot to become the ninth healthiest state in the 2012 America’s Health Rankings, the United Health Foundation announced today.

Vermont ranks as the healthiest state for the sixth year in a row, while Mississippi and Louisiana are tied for the least healthy states, according to a news release from the foundation.

Compared to all other states, Maine has less violent crime, a smaller uninsured population and fewer low-weight births, according to the foundation, which is an arm of the UnitedHealthcare insurance company.

Maine’s health challenges include high rates of chain smoking and cancer deaths and a moderate obesity rate, the annual study found.

The healthiest states include Hawaii at No. 2, followed by New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Minnesota. All six New England states are in the top 10, with Connecticut at No. 6 and Rhode Island at No. 10.

The five least healthy states include South Carolina (46), West Virginia (47) and Arkansas (48).

The foundation reported that Americans are living longer due to several medical advances, but unhealthy behavior and preventable illness threaten quality of life.

Nationwide, nearly 28 percent of the population is obese and more than 26 percent get no exercise, resulting in an increasing prevalence of diabetes and high blood pressure.

Premature, cardiovascular and cancer deaths have declined since 1990, by 18 percent, 34.6 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively. However, American adults are experiencing troubling levels of obesity (27.8 percent), diabetes (9.5 percent), high blood pressure (30.8 percent) and sedentary behavior (26.2 percent).

The ranking is published jointly by the United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.

The ranking is based on data from recognized outside sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, FBI, Dartmouth Atlas Project, U.S. Department of Education and Census Bureau.