The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has surveyed 1.7 million Americans since it was first conducted in 2008, measures the physical and emotional health of residents in 189 of the nation’s largest metropolitan regions. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the scores of each metro area in the six categories that comprise Gallup’s index to identify the cities that did best and worst.
Generally, people in cities with high well-being reported higher scores in most areas. Residents had low obesity and high energy levels. They also smoked less and exercised more. In the cities with poor well-being, residents were more likely to report being sad and experiencing health problems that kept them from their usual daily activities.
For the most part, the cities with the highest levels of well-being had median household income considerably above the national median, including Washington, D.C., at $86,680 — the highest in the nation. All but one of the areas with the lowest levels of well-being had higher poverty rates than 15.9%, the national average.
High educational attainment also appeared to have an impact on the cities where residents were content. Most of the metro areas with the highest well-being had a high percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree. In five of these areas, more than 40% of residents 25 or older had their bachelor’s. In Boulder, Colo., 59.1% of people had a bachelor’s degree, versus 28.5% nationwide. On the other hand, educational attainment was low in many of the metro areas with the lowest well-being.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, explained: “When you have highly educated residents, that works towards your well being in a lot of ways.” He added that having an educated population improves the quality of jobs available and the likelihood of healthy decisions.
Not surprisingly, residents in the cities doing best also are surrounded by opportunities to learn. According to Witters, “Learning and being engaged by interesting, new ideas is critical for most people.” This tends to be high in college towns, “which is why college towns tend to have high well-being.” A review of these cities shows many to be college towns, with Ann Arbor, Mich.; Boulder; and Burlington, Vt., all home to their states’ flagship public universities.
Witters explained that observing healthy behavior is generally better in college towns. People see the dentist more often, exercise more and are generally more aware of healthy behaviors because colleges promote them. They also encourage exercise, as “colleges and universities will put up fitness centers that can be available not just to the student body, but to people in the community.”
As many as 94.1% of Fort Collins respondents said they were satisfied with their city, tied for the highest in the nation. Those surveyed also rated their work environments well, with residents evaluating their workplace fifth best out of the 189 metro areas surveyed. Many people in the area work for Colorado State University, the largest employer in the city of Fort Collins. The area also ranked as one of the nation’s most well-educated. More than 94% of residents earned at least a high school diploma, and 42.8% had at least a bachelor’s degree.
Provo is home to Brigham Young University, one of the largest private, not-for-profit universities in the country. The university was also the area’s largest employer as of 2012, according to the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, and one of the largest in the state. Important to their well-being, Provo-Orem residents were among the most likely to enjoy where they worked. Residents also were likely to report that they had learned something new and were happy within the past day. As many as 77% of those surveyed noted their city was getting better, versus just 59.1% of respondents nationwide.
At 95.9%, more Burlington residents reported health insurance coverage than any other area in the country. Residents also were rated second healthiest among the 189 metro areas, according to Gallup’s physical health index. Like most of the cities with the highest well-being, higher education plays a larger part in the local economy; the University of Vermont is one the area’s largest employers.
2. Boulder, Colo.
> Well-being index score: 72.7
> Obesity: 12.5%
> Median household income: $68,637
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 93.7%
Boulder residents were among the nation’s best at practicing healthy behaviors. They were among the least likely respondents to smoke and among the most likely to eat healthy all day. Likely because of this, residents scored well for physical health as well. In Boulder, 85.6% of residents had no health problems preventing them from age-appropriate activities — the third highest rate in the nation. Every year the city hosts BolderBoulder, a 10K race that had more than 50,000 participants in 2012.
1. Lincoln, Neb.
> Well-being index score: 72.8
> Obesity: 25.8%
> Median household income: $49,315
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 93.7%
Lincoln is the top ranked metro area in the nation on Gallup’s well-being index. As of January, 4.2% of all workers in the area were unemployed, less than all but three other metropolitan areas. Residents were also the most likely Americans nationwide to enjoy their work environment. More than 94% of survey respondents were satisfied with their job and work, almost 68% felt treated like a partner at work and nearly 86% felt they worked in a trusting environment — all among the highest figures in the country. Nearly 76% of those surveyed believe the city is becoming a better place, the fourth highest rate in the nation.
Methodology: 24/7 Wall St. reviewed all metropolitan areas assessed by the Gallup-Healthways 2012 Well-Being Index. This index calculates well-being for the United States, as well as for states, metropolitan areas and occupations. Scores range from 0 to 100, with 100 representing ideal well-being. The index is composed of six sub-indices that measure access to basic needs, healthy behavior, work environment, physical health, life evaluation and emotional health. 24/7 Wall St. also considered income, poverty and educational attainment figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, all from 2011. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we reviewed local unemployment rates as of January 2013. These are preliminary and not seasonally adjusted. We also considered violent crime rates for 2011 by state from the FBI Uniform Crime Report Program.