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Another survey, another very poor ranking nationally

Another national survey, and yet another poor ranking for the Appalachian region.

Will the latest report foster change, or will it merely reinforce perceptions — from people living inside the region as well as outside of it — that states such as West Virginia and Kentucky have more challenges than most? That would seem to be the overriding question.

Survey results were from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index 2009, which used interviews with more than 350,000 people across the country to catalog their attitudes about various factors related to well-being. Those factors included life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors and access to basic necessities.

West Virginia finished 50th among the states in three of those categories — life evaluation, emotional health and physical health. It was among the bottom five in the others. Overall, West Virginia’s “well-being index” was the lowest among the 50 states.

Kentucky and Ohio didn’t do much better. Kentucky ranked 49th and Ohio placed 47th.

So what do we make of this?

Certainly, the scores related to physical health and healthy behavior come as no surprise, since the region’s shortcomings in those areas have been well-documented in studies that rely on more empirical data.

Besides fact-based questions, however, many of the questions in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey have more to do with attitudes and subjective assessments by the individuals rather than straight-out empirical data. You have to wonder how the repeated reports of the region’s health challenges — as well as the region’s welldocumented economic challenges over many decades — influenced negatively the respondents’ answers to this survey’s questions.

Nevertheless, the answers given by the 2,730 West Virginians in the well-being survey do reflect how they feel, and local and officials shouldn’t discount that. In fact, they should look closely at the survey results to determine what steps might be warranted. For example, the results related to access to basic necessities might point out weaknesses in delivery of needed services to the public.

The health and well-being problems facing West Virginians have caught the attention of state and local officials, and they are striving in some cases to counteract them. For example, in Cabell County, many initiatives are under way to promote healthier eating and more exercise. On a state level, officials are working to better coordinate health-related initiatives and are looking at ways to increase spending on behavioral health issues and addiction treatment.

This latest report underscores the importance of those efforts — and that the state has a long way to go.

— The Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch

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