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Aloha, health

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Turns out all that surf and sun are good for us after all. Hawaii ranks No. 1 for the fourth year in a row as the state where residents report the best sense of overall well-being, according to the annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, released Wednesday.

The poll that surveys the physical, mental and emotional health of Americans found that Hawaii even increased their well-being score from last year (to 71.1 in 2012, from 70.2 in 2011, out of 100).

Colorado, Minnesota, Utah and Vermont rounded out the top five states with the highest wellbeing scores last year.

People in those states are thinner, smoke less, exercise more and tend to have fewer medical problems.

Also for the fourth year in a row, West Virginia has the lowest overall wellbeing (with an index score of 61.3 in 2012, even lower than the 62.3 in 2011). Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas also had among the five lowest well-being scores in the country.

Hawaii residents earned the highest scores in the nation on the life evaluation, emotional health and work environment indexes, whereas Colorado residents scored the highest on the physical health index, partially a result of having the lowest percentage of obese residents in the country.

Hawaiians were most likely to experience daily enjoyment and least likely to have daily worry or stress, which contributed to their high emotional health, the survey notes.

Work also played a big factor in personal well-being. Hawaii workers reported having the most positive work environments in the nation, while Rhode Island employees reported having the most negative work environments. The work environment index measures workplace issues such as whether a worker has a trusting and open work environment and whether an employee is able to use his or her strengths to do what he or she does best every day.

On the other side of the spectrum, West Virginia residents had the worst emotional health in the nation and were more likely to report being diagnosed with depression than residents of any other state. They also have the worst physical health, including having the highest percentage of obese residents in the nation.

Overall, Western and Midwestern states earned the highest wellbeing scores (seven of the 10 highest overall wellbeing scores), while New England states held the other three spots. Southern states had the six lowest wellbeing scores, and eight southern states were within the 10 lowest wellbeing scores. That regional pattern has remained consistent over the past five years, Gallup notes.

Also a key takeaway? Wellbeing across states essentially remains static, reflecting the continuing sluggish economy. It also can cause people to adopt more unhealthy behaviors.

“Overall wellbeing in the U.S. and within states has remained mostly unchanged from 2008 to 2012, despite some signs of an improving economy in 2012,” the Gallup report notes. “The lack of progress among the states with the lowest wellbeing scores may be related to low household income levels in these states. Nearly all of the states with the lowest wellbeing scores in 2012 are also states with the lowest median household incomes.”

Researchers did note that some provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) may help low-income individuals improve their wellbeing, if they take advantage of free preventive care and screenings.

The poll examined people’s ratings in life evaluation (whether they saw themselves as struggling or thriving), physical health (obesity, number of sick days taken over the month), emotional health (happiness, depression, stress), healthy behaviors (smoking, eating, exercising), work environment (job satisfaction, treatment at work) and basic access (safety in the neighborhood, access to medicine, doctor, health insurance).

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