New report rates best states for older adults’ well-being

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Photo: Steve Baker via Flickr

Photo: Steve Baker via Flickr

Hawaii tops the list of states with the highest well-being among adults over age 55 for the second consecutive year, according to new national research. West Virginia was ranked last, with its older residents reporting the lowest metrics for a sense of purpose and social, financial, community and physical health.

Arizona, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Colorado also ranked in the top five, while Kentucky, Oklahoma, Ohio and Indiana again fell toward the bottom in Gallup-Healthways’ Well-Being Index. High well-being closely relates to key health outcomes such as lower rates of health care use, reduced workplace absenteeism, greater productivity, lower rates of obesity and new disease burden.

Gallup-Healthways interviewed more than 115,000 U.S. adults across all 50 states between Jan. 2, 2015 and March 31, 2016. The Well-Being Index is calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 the highest possible score. A difference of 1.0 point in the index score between any two states represents a statistically significant gap.

Hawaii scored 67.0 overall and was rated highest in the categories of purpose, community and physical well-being. Older residents of Arizona, South Carolina and Florida reported the highest social well-being, while those living in North Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota had the greatest sense of financial well-being. In comparison, West Virginia scored 59.9 overall; its older residents also reported the lowest purpose, social and physical well-being. Older residents of Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana reported the lowest financial well-being. Those living in New Jersey, West Virginia and Maryland reported the lowest community well-being.

The report found that as a group, people age 55 and older reported greater well-being than adults ages 18-54, including better eating habits, significantly reduced money worries and greater pride in their community. New Hampshire’s older residents have the largest well-being advantage compared with others in the Granite state — their index score was 65.2 for ages 55-plus compared with 62.1 for residents overall. The difference boosted its state ranking from 21st for the overall population to the third-highest among older residents. North Dakota, Mississippi and Oregon also rated significantly higher in well-being among older residents compared with the general population.

For the poll, the metrics of well-being were defined as:

  • Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.
  • Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life.
  • Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.
  • Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community.
  • Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.

Health care costs are projected to increase as much as 6.5 percent in 2017, topping $4 trillion. More than half of these costs will come from preventable disease, including diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and strokes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Not surprisingly, greater well-being is linked to increased longevity. The goal is to get community and public health advocates to use the data from the Gallup poll to improve population health, reduce disease burden and lower health care costs.

Here are some questions for reporters to ask:

  • Where did your state rank?
  • How are the state, counties and cities addressing the five elements of wellness?
  • What is in, (or is left out) of the 2017 budget to address these needs, especially among older residents?
  • Are there groups or programs that can step up to fill some of the gaps?
  • How could proposed changes in Medicare/Medicaid and other health funding affect well-being?

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