Utah Tops Survey of Well-Being in U.S.

Hawaii and Wyoming Residents Also Say They're Happy; West Virginia Ranks Last

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

March 11, 2009 -- No wonder Gallup's pollsters rank Utah No. 1 in the nation in terms of its residents' feelings of well-being. They must talk to lots of people like George W. Marlow.

"It's beautiful," says Marlow, 60, a transplant from Georgia. "It's easy to be physically fit. The people are real friendly. Everywhere you look, it's like a gorgeous painting. The only problem is -- the secret is getting out."

Marlow spoke by cell phone as he stood atop a ski slope 20 miles from his condo in Salt Lake City. His comments came just after the Gallup polling organization, in partnership with Healthways and America's Health Insurance Plans, released a state-by-state "well-being" survey -- a look at how residents feel about physical, mental, and emotional health, among other factors.

Utah scored 69.2 (out of a possible 100), compared to a national average of 65.5. It was followed on the top 10 list by Hawaii, Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota, Maryland, Washington, Massachusetts, California, and Arizona.

West Virginia ranked last in well-being with a score of 61.2.

The survey involved more than 350,000 interviews of people 18 and older during 2008. Participants were asked dozens of questions, including whether they laughed the day before the survey, whether they ate a healthy diet, and how much access they had to health care and exercise facilities.

Healthways' Melissa Gibbs says the well-being index measures "life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment, and basic access." Basic access includes categories such as health care, food, shelter, clean water, and safety.

Utah ranked second in life evaluation, first in work quality, eighth in basic access to such things as health care, 13th in healthy behavior, seventh in physical health, and 10th in emotional health.

Regionally, the highest well-being scores were registered in the West; the lowest were in the Midwest and the South.

Jim Harter, PhD, Gallup's chief scientist for workplace management, says the survey questions explore exercise and eating habits, access to basic necessities, and work environment.

"Utah is pretty strong across the board in how they evaluate their lives," Harter tells WebMD. "We asked about their day, whether they worried, about stress and sadness, disease, whether they smoked, exercised regularly, and a couple questions about diet."

People also were asked about general levels of life satisfaction, whether they were "able to use their strengths at work, about food, and shelter," Harter says.

William Custer, director of the Center for Health Services Research at Georgia State University, who tracks health conditions nationwide, says Utah is "a healthy state and that may affect their top ranking."

But Utah residents, according to Georgia State University data, have low access to health care relative to people in most states "because they are so rural," Custer tells WebMD.

Gallup says on its web site that the rankings should be used to evaluate the nation's relative health and prosperity, as well as feelings of well-being.

"This project will shine a light on often overlooked issues affecting the American people, including disparities in access to care and barriers to healthy lifestyles," Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive of America's Health Insurance Plans, says in a news release.

Marlow, whose native state of Georgia ranks 23rd on the well-being scale, says his only mistake was "not moving out here a long time ago. It's a real good place to spend my senior years."

Pam Perlich, an economist at the University of Utah who moved to Salt Lake City from Tulsa, Okla., in 1986, also gushes about the state.

"The quality of life is wonderful," she says. "I am every day struck with the beauty of the place."

And Rob Jones, manager of the university's outdoor recreation program who moved to Salt Lake City 17 years ago from northern California, says he wouldn't live anywhere else. "It's gorgeous, we have wonderful medical centers, and my job is a good gig to have."

State-by-State Well-Being Rankings

Here are well-being rankings for the U.S.

  1. Utah
  2. Hawaii
  3. Wyoming
  4. Colorado
  5. Minnesota
  6. Maryland
  7. Washington
  8. Massachusetts
  9. California
  10. Arizona
  11. Idaho
  12. Montana
  13. New Hampshire
  14. Vermont
  15. Virginia
  16. Nebraska
  17. New Mexico
  18. Oregon
  19. Connecticut
  20. Alaska
  21. Texas
  22. Kansas
  23. Georgia
  24. Wisconsin
  25. New Jersey
  26. South Carolina
  27. Iowa
  28. North Dakota
  29. Maine
  30. Florida
  31. Illinois
  32. Pennsylvania
  33. Alabama
  34. North Carolina
  35. New York
  36. Delaware
  37. Rhode Island
  38. Nevada
  39. South Dakota
  40. Louisiana
  41. Michigan
  42. Tennessee
  43. Oklahoma
  44. Missouri
  45. Indiana
  46. Arkansas
  47. Ohio
  48. Mississippi
  49. Kentucky
  50. West Virginia

State Rankings in Physical Health

Here's how states ranked in physical health:

  1. Minnesota
  2. Wyoming
  3. Hawaii
  4. Colorado
  5. North Dakota
  6. Nebraska
  7. Utah
  8. New Jersey
  9. Connecticut
  10. Maryland
  11. Georgia
  12. Iowa
  13. New Hampshire
  14. Illinois
  15. Massachusetts
  16. California
  17. Texas
  18. Arizona
  19. Alaska
  20. Montana
  21. Virginia
  22. Minnesota
  23. Wisconsin
  24. Kansas
  25. Vermont
  26. Florida
  27. New York
  28. South Dakota
  29. New Mexico
  30. Pennsylvania
  31. South Carolina
  32. Michigan
  33. Idaho
  34. Rhode Island
  35. Indiana
  36. Maine
  37. North Carolina
  38. Washington
  39. Missouri
  40. Oregon
  41. Louisiana
  42. Ohio
  43. Delaware
  44. Alabama
  45. Tennessee
  46. Oklahoma
  47. Arkansas
  48. Mississippi
  49. Kentucky
  50. West Virginia

The sampling error for the survey is +/- 0.2 percentage points.

SOURCES: Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 2008 survey. Jim Harter, PhD, chief scientist for workplace management, Gallup Inc. William Custer, director, Center for Health Services Research, Georgia State University. Pam Perlich, economist, University of Utah. Rob Jones, manager of outdoor recreation, University of Utah. George W. Marlow, resident, Salt Lake City area. Melissa Gibbs, Healthways.

©2009 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


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