Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Policy Point Wednesday: Pursuing Happiness: Healthy Lifestyles

Since 2008, Gallup-Healthways has conducted research into the quality of life of Americans.  This poll measures the following: Life Evaluation, Physical Health, Emotional Health, Healthy Behavior, Work Environment, and Basic Access.

I found it to be no surprise that healthy behaviors and basic access are two large contributors to overall well-being, as these are the two central issues I explore in this blog.  The poll ranks the following healthy (or unhealthy) behaviors: eating habits, smoking, weekly consumption of fruits and vegetables and exercise.  Basic access includes things like clean water, medicine, affordable fruits and vegetables, access to a doctor, safety walking alone at night, etc.  Also not surprisingly, communities whose data appeared on the low end of the scale regularly showed low scores in these two areas.  For instance, Mississippi, the third lowest-ranked state ranked 50th for basic access and 49th nationally for healthy behaviors; while a surprising high score for "life evaluation," (ranking your life on a scale from 0-10) kept it off the bottom of the charts - physical and emotional health also ranked very low.  The two lower-ranked states showed similar low scores in these areas.

While access is often determined by economic factors, as shown in this interactive map,  there are other barriers to accessing healthy foods and services.  Although not shown here, the index also asks participants about "affordable fruits and vegetables" which can be an indicator of a food desert.  Unfortunately, the study does not provide a way to tie healthy behaviors to education, but I think it is a fairly safe assumption that the two are connected.   

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