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Editorial: Poverty, health issues contribute to low 'well-being' scores

Mar. 08, 2013 @ 06:35 AM

It is probably not surprising that residents of Hawaii have the highest "well-being" index of any state in the union for the fourth year in a row.

The warm weather and beautiful beaches alone might be enough for a high ranking.

But Hawaii also has a relatively healthy population, strong economy and upbeat culture. Those are all factors in the high score with the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which came out last week.

Based on interviews with more than 350,000 Americans during 2012, Hawaiians were the most likely to see their lives as "thriving" and report good physical and emotional health, as well as a satisfying work environment.

West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio are unfortunately on the other end of the scale.

Also for the fourth year in a row, West Virginia had the lowest "well-being" index of any state. Kentucky had the second lowest, and Ohio was only a few notches higher.

Granted our region has no beaches and few surf boards, but the real problems are poor health and economic challenges, two issues that are interwoven in so many ways. The survey asks residents about 50 different topics and pulls responses together for scores on overall life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors and basic access to services and assistance.

West Virginia had the nation's lowest scores on physical health, life evaluation and emotional health, and Kentucky had the lowest score on healthy behaviors. Both states also ranked near the bottom in the other categories, and Ohio scored poorly in all areas, as well.

In other words, combine unhealthy habits, chronic illness, lower education levels and limited job prospects, and not surprisingly, you will find high rates of depression and gloomy "well-being" scores that are shared across the country.

None of that is easy to change, but a group of West Virginia legislators hope to put a new focus on a big contributing factor -- child poverty. About a fourth of children in West Virginia live below the poverty line, and many more are only slightly better off. Consider that about half of the children in the state qualify for free or reduced priced school lunches.

The group hopes to focus on the problems these children face in terms of health care, domestic violence, child care programs, healthy foods, teen pregnancy, education and truancy. Successes there could go a long way toward avoiding the health issues and employment challenges that drive these low "well-being" scores.

"It's trying to lift people out of the situation they find themselves in," Senate President Jeffrey Kessler said.

That helps improve lives, but it also helps the economy by making West Virginia and our region a more attractive place to live and work.

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