Surveys point to this country’s stark health divide

Massachusetts was recently ranked the third healthiest state in the country according to a survey by WalletHub. The survey was based on metrics such as the average servings of fruits or vegetables consumed by residents each day. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Another national survey, another healthy reason to live in Massachusetts.

A study by WalletHub into 2023’s most overweight and obese states, released Monday to coincide with National Diabetes Awareness Month, ranked Massachusetts as the third lowest with respect to obesity.

The Bay State trailed only Colorado and Utah, which came in least and second least, respectively.

Massachusetts just edged out Hawaii to claim the third spot, with the District of Columbia and California the next two leanest. They were followed by Minnesota, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New York.

On the other end of the scale, West Virginia took the most obese prize, with Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, and Delaware taking the next nine spots.

The study ranked three categories — obesity and overweight prevalence, health consequences and food/fitness.

Of those, the prevalence of obese and corpulent individuals carried the most weight.

WalletHub looked at every states’ share of obese and overweight adults, teenagers and children, as well as a projection of where the obesity rate would fall in 2030.

Next was health consequences, which weighed states’ obesity-related death rate and the share of adults with obesity-related diseases, including high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.

The final category, food and fitness, looked at the state’s share of adults eating less than one serving of fruit or vegetables a day, fast food restaurants per capita, healthy food access, and share of physically inactive adults, children and teenagers.

Massachusetts did well in all three categories, ranking 48 out of 51 in prevalence of obesity, 45 out of 51 in health consequences and 47 out of 51 in food/fitness. That was good enough for third lowest in the country.

It’s just the latest WalletHub survey that’s found a common thread, especially among this nation’s poorer states.

In one of two other recent surveys, WalletHub named Massachusetts the eighth least stressed state in the country.

The Washington, D.C. based personal-finance website compared all 50 states across 41 key stress indicators.

The commonwealth’s low stress levels coincided with its high ranking in categories like credit score, most psychologists per capita, and fewest work week hours.

The low-ranking states in this survey show a strong correlation to those in the obese-overweight study, with West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama appearing on both lists.

And in another national review, WalletHub rated Massachusetts the country’s healthiest state for the second year in a row, followed by Hawaii, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York.

Conversely, Mississippi remained at the bottom of the list for the third year running, joined by Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama. All five of those states were also at the bottom of the obese and most-stressed surveys.

The annual study aims to give an overview of the country’s health and well-being by assessing people’s individual health — their physical, social, and financial well-being — and combining that data with information about community health, including economic security, home values, public transit use, and access to food, health care, and public amenities.

The analysis of the bottom five states showed the lowest scores in community well-being, which measures how much people like where they live and have pride in their community. These states also scored low in the area of purpose well-being.

It would be simplistic to say these surveys simply reinforce the gaping quality-of-life divide between blue and red states.

But there’s no denying that the list of the nation’s 10 poorest states — Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, South Carolina, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Oklahoma — comprises almost all those in these bottom 10 lists.

In Massachusetts, despite our overly liberal politics and soaring housing costs, we’re fortunate to have some of the finest medical centers in the world, along with the intellectual capital that drives our highly-skilled economy, backed by some of the most prestigious universities in the country.

That’s not the case in many of those red states, whose residents generally work lower-paying, more physically demanding jobs, and suffer from low-nutrition diets. That contributes to the prevalence of unhealthy lifestyle ailments like diabetes and heart disease.

Perhaps if we could close the health and income gaps that exist between these have and have-not states, we could lower the ideological walls that divide us.

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