There is no “safe space” when it comes to escaping the everlasting impact of the COVID pandemic and ongoing social injustices, but it seems as though people living in Massachusetts may be faring better than others. According to a new study released by Sharecare, a digital health company, in partnership with the Boston University School of Public Health, Massachusetts has emerged as the state with the highest well-being in the nation for the second consecutive year. Rounding out the top five highest-ranking states are Hawaii (No. 2), New Jersey (No. 3), Maryland (No. 4) and New York (No. 5).
Nearly 500,000 adult Americans across the country were surveyed in 2021 across five individual well-being domains: 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 increase security and reduce stress; community: liking where you live and having pride in your community; and physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily. The survey also included five social determinants of health: health care access, food access, resource access, housing and transportation, and economic security.
“When we talk about well-being in the context of the Community Well-Being Index, what we’re really talking about is the way people perceive their health status, their relationships to people and communities,” explains Dr. Michael Rickles, vice president of research at Sharecare. “And we’re also thinking about the social determinant context, which may shape some of those opportunities for feeling healthier and feeling connected.”
In the case of Massachusetts, the state earned top-10 scores in eight of 10 domains measured: health care access (No. 2); housing and transportation (No. 2); purpose well-being (No. 3); financial (No. 3); physical (No. 4); social (No. 5), community (No. 5), and food access (No. 8).
“Health arises from the conditions of the world around us—where we live, work, and play,” says Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health. “Massachusetts has shown that having the vision and commitment to invest in those conditions over the long term can generate and sustain a healthier commonwealth.”
Meanwhile, Mississippi earned the lowest scores in the most domains and maintained its ranking for the third year in a row. Joining it in the bottom five are Arkansas (No. 49), West Virginia (No. 48), Kentucky (No. 47), and Alabama (No. 46).
But there is hope. Overall, the U.S. scored 60.9 out of 100 for well-being, a minor increase from 60.5 in 2020. Researchers attribute the rise to a sense of community and socialization, thanks in large part to the rollout of the COVID vaccines and a return to work. Additionally, people’s financial and purpose well-being, defined as “liking what you do each day and feeling motivated to achieve your goals,” have increased to pre-pandemic levels.
“If we’re thinking about the history of well-being as a measurement tool, year over year we typically see maybe a 1- or 1.5-point increase in some of these indicators, but financial well-being from 2020 to 2021 had a 2.4-point jump and purpose had an almost 6-point jump,” says Rickles. “These stand out because they’re above and beyond what we would expect and are worth exploring when we think about some of the larger social context of what’s happening with remote working, the Great Resignation, and people’s engagement with workspaces.”
It remains to be seen how the rankings will play out next year, as the country deals with inflation and a pending recession, which is why the team at Sharecare is keeping an eye on mental health trends as well, noting that states in the bottom 10 represent “nearly 1.4 times higher rates of diagnosed depression.”
“We have seen a pretty significant rise in people who have not only depression risk, but also a rise in the people who have reported a clinical depression screening,” Rickles shares. “One of the trends we’re paying attention to is how we can track, measure, and understand people’s risks for depression and mental health indicators overall. We ultimately want to address everybody’s health, but where we’ve seen a really sharp spike in those depression screening indicators we want to understand well-being trends among those who are maintaining their mental health and those who may be more at risk in a year-over-year fashion.”
Top 10 States for Overall Well-Being
- New Jersey
- New York
Bottom 10 States for Overall Well-Being
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
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