Survey says … W.Va., Ohio rank low in well-being score

Area residents say they think it’s the economy and unhealthy lifestyles that likely play a large role in Ohio and West Virginia’s continuing low scores in an annual well-being poll.

For the fifth year in a row, a Gallup study found West Virginia had the worst well-being of all 50 states, and Ohio wasn’t much better, dropping from 44th to 46th.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index study, conducted throughout 2013, polled more than 176,000 adults in all 50 states about things such as overall satisfaction in life, emotional health, physical health, lifestyle habits, work environment and basic access.

Marietta resident Jerry Littlefield, 80, was skeptical of Ohio’s low ranking.

“I would give Ohio high marks,” said Littlefield, who grew up in Wyoming and has lived in Oregon, California, Texas and New Jersey.

Littlefield and his wife lived in Ohio when he retired and chose to stay here, he said.

“I certainly don’t want to live in a place like California where the tax is high and the cost is high,” he said.

Littlefield’s comments echoed the sentiment of many others, that economics play a huge factor in people’s satisfaction and well-being.

Williamstown resident Rhonda Milliron, 57, said she loves where she lives because people strive to be good neighbors for one another. But she can see how economic factors would have lowered West Virginia’s scores.

“The worst part about West Virginia is our median income level is so low, it’s hard for people,” said Milliron.

While the Gallup study did not take income into consideration, a separate study conducted by 24/7 Wall St., and published in USA Today found a direct correlation between income level and the well-being score assigned by Gallup.

At $40,196 annually, West Virginia’s median household income is the third lowest in the United States.

The median income in Ohio $46,829, the 17th lowest.

Ryan May, the head of Marietta College’s Psychology Department and a clinical psychologist confirmed that people’s income can affect their overall satisfaction.

“There’s really no link between exorbitant amounts of wealth and happiness, but having basic needs met is certainly linked with well-being,” he said.

May pointed to a rough economy, linked in part to the closing of some large area employers, as something that could have contributed to people’s negative responses during the survey.

Marietta resident Pat Hadley, 76, echoed that assumption.

“A big thing, a reason people are unhappy, is Ormet shutting down,” said Hadley.

Marietta resident Deann Cummings, 50, agreed.

“When I look at the polls, it’s apparent economy has taken its toll,” she said.

However, Cummings noted that the Mid-Ohio Valley is not a good representation of the state.

“Our part of Ohio is so different. You can’t lump this part of the state in with the three C’s,” she said referring to Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Cummings feels that Marietta offers a low cost of living and friendly environment.

Physical health and healthy behaviors were categories where both Ohio and West Virginia ranked poorly.

West Virginia ranked last in both, and Ohio ranked 42nd and 45th respectively.

Melanie Bertram, a registered and licensed dietitian from Marietta, has noticed that people in the area tend to rely heavily on fast food.

“I think there are a lot of people here that eat fast food pretty regularly. It’s quick and cheap, and people are used to the flavors,” she said.

Milliron also noted this.

“It’s cheaper to run through McDonald’s and grab a hamburger than it is to buy a pound of beef,” she said.

Obesity was a factor examined by the poll. West Virginia is the second most obese state. Ohio trails, but not by much, in the eighth spot.

Williamstown physician and Waverly resident Jill Powell was unsurprised that West Virginia’s physical health played a role in lowering its score.

“I can see where based on heart disease, obesity, smoking rates…people are generally unhealthy in West Virginia, and in the Mid-Ohio Valley in general,” she said.

Education could be a key component in improving area health, suggested Bertram.

“I think if we had more programs available to help, especially for kids, it might be a good start,” she said.

Bertram will be teaching healthy eating habits at an area preschool in the coming weeks and stressed that a young age is the best time to learn such habits.

Williamstown resident Edie Lindley, 69, said she feels her community is making strides toward being more healthy.

“We have the pool, which was part of a healthy lifestyles program,” she said.

The community also has several walking trails that people are aware of, and high school athletics are popular at the local schools, she said.

Of the six factors measured by Gallup, work environment was actually the only category in which West Virginia did not rank last. The state ranked 14th in work environment.

“Those that are working are happy to have a job,” postulated Lindley.

But Milliron said that a better job is the biggest change she would make to improve her overall happiness. She put herself through college and received a two-year degree in social work, but has stayed at Walmart for a decade.

“Unfortunately, (a job in my field) won’t pay what I’m making at Walmart,” she said.

Milliron said she would like to find something more fulfilling, but the high cost of education deters her from getting more schooling.

USA Today also drew the correlation between graduation rates and the Gallup poll’s findings. However, Ohio bucked the correlation in that respect, with an above average rate of adults with a high school diploma. Ohio ranked 25th in diploma percentage, with 88.8 percent of adults having one. West Virginia, at 84.5 percent, ranked 43rd. The national average was 86.4 percent.

Ohio’s best metric according to the Gallop study was its basic access, meaning the accessibility of resources like food, shelter and health care.

Anna and Melvyn Sliker, of Reno, said they enjoy how easy it is to meet basic needs in the area.

“We’re close to grocery stores and close to the hospital,” said Anna, 69.

The metric also considered residents’ satisfaction with those services, and Anna said she has had fantastic experiences with local doctors.

Before moving to the area, the Slikers lived in New Jersey, which was nice, but the cost of living was high, said Melvyn, 71.

Though West Virginia ranked last in basic access, Wood County residents Ken and Margaret Cutright said it is not a problem for them. They just pop across the Ohio River into Marietta for many basic needs.

“That’s one of the reasons we like it here. We don’t have to go clear to the mall,” said Ken, 72.

While local access is generally good, Lindley noted that the more rural areas of West Virginia are probably responsible for the low ranking.

“I look at the map in some areas and think ‘Where do those people go for groceries?'” said Lindley.

Despite the deficiencies, area residents in both Ohio and West Virginia echoed that they like where they live.

“We’re West Virginia. We’ll be that for life. We’re happy in West Virginia,” said Ken Cutright.