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Utah ranks high in overall well-being

Published: Tuesday, March 26 2013 6:52 p.m. MDT

Long an iconic symbol in downtown Salt Lake City, the tower atop the Walker Center also reports the weather forecast 24-7.

LEE BENSON,

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SALT LAKE CITY — Many Utahns would proclaim Utah is a great state, but it helps to have a nod as one of the country's "elite."

Utah again landed among the top five places to live, according to the annual Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index, which was released Tuesday.

The state — ranked fourth in the latest 2012 report — bested its scores from last year, moving up one notch on a scale that averages responses from more than 350,500 nationwide assessments of well-being. The index measures six domains of well-being, including perceived quality of life now and in the future, physical and emotional health, various healthy behaviors, perception of work environment, and basic access to necessities — such as food, shelter and health care.

Utah's first-, third- and seventh-largest cities, Salt Lake City, Provo/Orem and Ogden/Clearfield, also ranked high among 189 community counterparts surveyed in the report, placing seventh, fourth and 40th, respectively.

In each of the five years that Gallup-Healthways has collected data on overall well-being, Utah has come out in the top eight, giving the Beehive State elite status, which means the state has shown a sustained level of excellence. More people in the state rate their lives much better today, and in the future, than in other states, according to the report.

"Living in Utah absolutely makes me happy," said 23-year-old Alyssa Gold, of Centerville. She's spent most of her life in the Beehive State and said she would only trade living in Utah for a chance to be near the beaches of the West Coast.

It's the myriad outdoor activities that are within a 20- to 30-minute reach in northern Utah that keep Gold upbeat, including hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, biking and winter sports. "We've got pretty much everything except surfing," she said.

Four distinct seasons, Gold said, are also a plus in the state, even if winter sometimes feels like it drags on a bit long.

Utah is also a big draw for families, as many families begin in the state and either stay or relocate to Utah after years apart.

Darcy Dixon, 32, was born and raised in Salt Lake City and stays because of a large family that is based in Utah. But the mountain landscape, she said, is also a huge draw.

"Even after visiting different places and seeing the diversity of other states, there's something about driving or flying back into Salt Lake that makes you feel like you're truly home," Dixon said. "The people of Salt Lake have a diversity of their own, in which I feel I belong."

The Gallup-Healthways poll tallies telephone survey results provided between January and December 2012 by a random selection of adults.

The report states that high-ranking cities tend to have civic leaders who pursue healthful opportunities for residents, including safe places to exercise, access to nutritious foods and health care, as well as interesting things to learn and do.

The report states that "city optimism" was among the highest quality of residents in Provo/Orem. The community boasts a small number of people diagnosed with diabetes, as well as few without health insurance. Nearly 55 percent report frequent participation in various exercise endeavors.

Many of the top-performing states, cities and communities in the report coincidentally are those with a robust academic presence, having a college or university nearby.

Lincoln, Neb., Boulder, Colo., and Burlington, Vt., were ranked as the metropolitan areas with the best reported well-being, with Provo/Orem and Fort Collins, Colo., rounding out the top five.

States receiving higher marks than Utah include Hawaii, Colorado and Minnesota. Vermont ranked No. 5.

When compared to residents of low well-being states, such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi, Utahns reportedly have better emotional health, including much lower clinically diagnosed depression and daily sadness, as well as lower obesity rates. Another factor of elite well-being states is a substantially reduced disease burden, people enjoy their jobs and exercise more, as well as smoke and drink alcohol less.

Utah ranked fifth in the 2011 report and eighth in 2010, fourth in 2009 and fifth in 2008, the years data was collected. More than 4,500 Utahns were polled in this year's survey.

"I love Utah," Dixon said. "Its beautiful and a great place to live."

E-mail: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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