While not quite a tradition yet, the Gallup-Healthways survey of well-being in the United States aims to provide a map of the United States' mental and physical health contours, updated annually. Its 2009 survey is the partnership's second annual effort, and it came out Monday.
As a whole, the country came in exactly where it did in 2008, at 65.9 points out of a possible 100. The nation slipped slightly in a number of specific areas scored; but respondents — led by African Americans — compensated for those losses by being more bullish than they were last year in evaluating the state of their well-being now and where they expect it to be in five years.
While much of the rest of the nation is contending with snow, ice and general adversity, four sun-drenched communities in California are feeling very, very well, thank you: Of 185 U.S. cities, large and small, that were surveyed, Santa Rosa was found to be the nation's fifth most-well city; Santa Barbara was sixth and San Jose seventh. Oxnard came in at No. 10. [Updated at 11:24 a.m. Feb. 16: An earlier version of this post, and the headline, incorrectly referred to the four cities as being near the coast. Santa Rosa is about 20 miles inland.)
Among the nation's big cities — those with 1 million or more residents — San Jose actually came in first (as they say there, "The fun never stops!").
Los Angeles landed in the top half of the class — it was declared the nation's 86th most-well city. Among the biggies — a field of 52 cities — Los Angeles came in smack in the middle of the pack, at 26th, well behind No. 5 San Francisco.
Well? What does that mean, you ask?
Surveying a random and representative sample of residents from each state and city, Gallup surveyors measured "well-being" by asking respondents to evaluate (1) their life situation, now and five years from now; (2) their emotional health, including whether they smile and laugh frequently, have stimulating hobbies or interests, feel they are treated with respect, and how much anger, sadness or stress they feel; (3) their work environment and whether it is open and trusting, allows them to use their talents, whether their supervisor is reasonable; (4) their physical health, including obesity, chronic illnesses or disabilities, whether they get enough rest or have daily pains; and (5) their health behaviors, such as smoking, eating healthfully, getting exercise; (6) their level of access to basic health needs, such as clean water, medicine, health insurance and healthcare, a safe place to exercise, money for and access to healthful food, and shelter.
From those answers, Gallup tallies a 100-point index for each state and city. Hawaii came in first, with 70.2 points — they don't call it paradise for nothing. The No. 2 slot was shared by Utah and Montana (clearly, the Mormon tradition confers certain health benefits, and the Marlboro Man no longer lives in Montana — in fact, he no longer lives at all).
California ranked 20th, with 66.5 points. Way down at the bottom are West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Ohio and Nevada.
Healthways, which helps underwrite the well-being project, is a provider of health and benefit information and solutions to health insurers and employers.
— Melissa Healy
Photo: A child plays in Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara. Credit: David McNew / Getty Images