By Frank Lewis
The Tri-State region of Huntington-Ashland, comprising parts of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, is listed as the “worst-off metro area” in the nation according to a Gallup-Healthways survey of several hundreds of thousands of Americans in 189 metropolitan areas in the U.S. in 2012-2013.
The survey recorded the physical and emotional health of the residents, as well as financial, employment and social indicators, among others. The resulting Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index allows for comparisons between places and over time.
According to the Gallup-Healthways survey, several factors formed a thread that ran through the category of America’s most miserable cities. For example, residents were less likely to be in good physical health and conversely, more likely to practice unhealthy behaviors. Another indicator was smoking tendencies. In all of the nation’s 10 most miserable areas there was a much higher than average smoking population. In fact, in the city listed as the second most miserable area, Charleston, West Virginia, slightly over 35 percent of people said they smoked. That was the worst rate in the country.
Income did not factor into the rankings, but those conducting the survey said there was a wide gulf between the income levels of America’s most content. In each of the 10 cities with the lowest well-being scores, incomes were lower than the typical American household. The worst-off metro area, the Tri-State region of Huntington-Ashland, and adjoining cities in Ohio, the median household income was less than $40,000 in 2012.
The 2014 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, Building a Culture of Health county-by-county, was released last week. Scioto placed last (No. 88) in health outcomes and 86th in health factors. The annual report, released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, examines every county in the United States and ranks them on a state level based on health outcomes and factors.
The Gallup-Healthways survey also broke down indicators by states, and again, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio ranked at or near the bottom in all indicators. Under “Life Evaluation,” West Virginia was 50th, Kentucky 49th and Ohio 48th. Under “Emotional Health,” West Virginia and Kentucky were again 50th and 49th respectively, while Ohio was ranked 44th. Ohio was ranked the lowest among the three states in the category - “Work Environment.” Ohio placed 40th while Kentucky ranked 25th and West Virginia 14th. In “Physical Health,” West Virginia was 50th, Kentucky 49th and Ohio, 42nd. “Healthy Behaviors,” followed the same trend with West Virginia 50th, Kentucky 49th and Ohio 45th. Finally, under “Basic Access,” Ohio fared the best in the Tri-State at 28th, Kentucky was 41st, and West Virginia was again ranked 50th.
When Gallup and Healthways first launched the Well-Being Index on Jan. 2, 2008, no one knew which states would someday be considered elite places of well-being and which states would gain the unfortunate distinction of consistently low rankings. There were some indicators, of course. Government organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could those conducting the survey, for example, which states had the highest levels of obesity or the lowest rates of smoking. But no instrument as comprehensive as the Well-Being Index had ever been administered on the scale that Gallup and Healthways undertook.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.