Alabama's Anniston Star Gets It

Sandy Cummings

This week, Gallup and Healthways released our analysis of the state of well-being for communities, states and congressional districts in the United States. We've been conducting this research and analysis for six years now, and it always yields interesting tidbits -- for example, Boulder has the nation’s lowest obesity rate at 12.4%, making it the only community in the United States (covered by the report) that meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s stated goal of 15% obesity rate or lower.

The analysis generates some media attention each year. After all, we care about where we live, and we want to know how our states and communities fare in the rankings. Does the research echo what we believe to be true about our homes and our experiences?

We were excited to see the news covered this year by USA Today, The Huffington Post, the Boston Globe and many other media outlets -- even Diane Sawyer gave us a shout-out on "ABC World News Tonight." That's heady stuff.

But the editorial board at Alabama's relatively small Anniston Star really captured the reason that we collaborate on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in the first place. Take a look. It's a quick read, but an important one, because Alabama ranked 47th this year, ahead of only three states — Mississippi, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Well-being isn't the same as being happy, nor is it synonymous with good physical health or wealth. Tom Rath, who literally wrote the book on well-being, describes it as "the interaction between physical health, finding your daily work and interactions fulfilling, having strong social relationships and access to the resources you need, feeling financially secure, and being part of a true community."

In short, in areas where well-being is high, people have a greater tendency to be leading their best lives. And that, in turn, impacts business performance, healthcare costs and many other factors that are vital to helping communities thrive and grow.

Understanding where a population -- a state, a community, a company -- stands when it comes to well-being is the first step toward setting successful strategies for improvement. Because well-being can be improved -- it just takes leadership.

As the editorial board of the Anniston Star put it:

Not everyone in Alabama is obese. Not everyone has habits harmful to his or her health. Not everyone has trouble finding decent housing or healthy food. Not everyone has a fatalistic outlook on life. Yet, we all must work together.

Alabama is an example of what happens in the absence of leadership. Too many of its residents are denied an opportunity at the American Dream.

Past performance doesn't lock us into this prison forever. Everyone has a stake in seeing these conditions improve. Our prosperity as a state depends on it.

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