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Rocky Mountain High: Boulder, Colo., Tops Well-Being List

The city of Boulder, Colo., has scored the highest in well-being, while the Huntington-Ashland region of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio came in last, according to a Gallup and Healthways survey of American cities announced this week.

The Gallup and Healthways poll surveyed more than 188 metropolitan areas (as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget) in 2010; the poll was conducted through telephone interviews of more than 350,000 adults from 188 metropolitan areas across the United States, from Jan 2 until Dec. 29, 2010.

Here's who filled out the top and the bottom 10 of the Well-Being Index scores, which measured six subcategories of well-being, including: life evaluation (self-evaluation about your present life situation and anticipated one in five years); emotional health; work environment (such as job satisfaction); physical health; healthy behavior; and basic access (access to health care, a doctor, a safe place to exercise and walk, as well as community satisfaction).

The highest index score possible was 100.

Top 10: 1. Boulder, Colo. (73.7) 2. Lincoln, Neb. (72.8) 3. Fort Collins, Colo. (72.1) 4. Provo-Orem, Utah (71.7) 5. Honolulu, Hawaii (71.6) 6. Madison, Wis. (70.8) 7. Cedar Rapids, Ind. (70.5) 8. Gainesville, Fla. (70.3) 9. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. (70.1) 10. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.Va. (69.9)

Bottom 10: 1. Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio (58.1) 2. Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa. (61.0) 3. Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas (61.1) 4. Redding, Calif. (61.5) 5. Fort Smith, Ark.-Okla. (61.8) 6. Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, N.C. (61.9) 7. Spartanburg, S.C. (62.2) 8. Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Ariz. (62.3) 9. Prescott, Ariz. (62.4) 10. Utica-Rome, N.Y. (62.6)

The group has been tracking these factors daily since January 2008. They also tabulated the results by state, determining that well-being is higher in the West and lower in the South. Hawaii came in as the happiest state for 2010. [Happiest States of 2010]

Places to learn something new

While Boulder came out tops overall and in the physical health categories, Honolulu had the highest scores on two of the six sub-indexes: life evaluation and emotional health. Residents of Holland-Grand Haven, Mich., had the best access to basic necessities and Gainesville, Fla., had the highest work environment score, while residents living in Salinas, Calif., had the highest healthy behaviors index score.

When considering just the largest 52 metro areas, which have more than 1 million residents, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria comes out on top for well-being and Austin-Round Rock, Texas, comes in second. Louisville-Jefferson County on the Kentucky-Indiana border had the lowest overall well-being of the large metropolitan areas.

Well-being in Boulder may be related to learning opportunities for its residents, including access to bookstores, museums, art exhibits and other enhanced opportunities that allow residents to learn and grow, according to Gallup.

The bad and the ugly

The lowest-scoring metro area, Huntington-Ashland, which spans the West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio borders, was the only area with a total score under 60 in the poll. Its bottom placement was the result of low scores in the emotional and physical health categories. Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, at the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania, landed the bottom spot in the life evaluation category, while Shreveport-Bossier City, in Louisiana, sunk to the bottom in the work environment index.

McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area in Texas came in last for basic access to necessities, while Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway, S.C., came in last in the healthy behavior category. Two of the biggest detractors of healthy behavior index are smoking and not visiting the dentist, lifestyle choices that have substantial negative health outcomes downstream, the researchers wrote.

Gallup released the poll on March 15 on their website.

You can follow LiveScience staff writer Jennifer Welsh on Twitter @microbelover.

Jennifer Welsh
Jennifer Welsh graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz's Science Communication graduate program after working at a start up biotech company for three years after getting her Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences from the University of Notre Dame. She has worked at WiredScience, The Scientist and Discover Magazine before joining the Live Science team.