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

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

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