Featured in Herald-Tribune: Well-being – ranking says we are No. 1

April 9, 2015
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Maggie Clark | Herald-Tribune | Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area ranked as the best place in the country for overall well-being in 2014, even ahead of Honolulu, a recent survey found.

The region earned top marks for physical, social and financial well-being in a survey conducted by the Gallup polling company and Healthways, a research firm specializing in health data analysis.

The survey measured the 100 largest metro areas and scored them based on five areas of well-being: physical, social, financial, community and purpose. To calculate the Southwest Florida area’s score, pollsters conducted 15-minute phone interviews with 450 randomly selected residents, who answered 55 survey questions apiece.

The area’s large retiree population likely increased its overall well-being score, said Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Index report.

Because older people tend to eat more veggies and health food, smoke less than the general population, feel financially secure and spend more time on social activities and philanthropy, the region’s well-being score was higher than that of any other metro area, Witters said.

But the region may be having a little too much fun, the survey also found: The community had the highest rate of alcohol consumption, with residents averaging 3.6 drinks consumed per week, Witters noted. Nationally, about 12 percent of adults report having one drink per day, but here the number jumps to about 20 percent.

Still, drinking is also often a social activity, so while the high rates dinged the physical health score, they may have helped social scores, Witter said.

The community ranks 10th in the nation for the portion of people who say they always feel good about their physical appearance, a factor that generally increases with age, Witters said.

For top-scoring communities, researchers found that residents exercise more frequently and report that someone close to them encourages them to be healthy, a critical component of social well-being.

Those who live in high-ranking places also are much less likely to be obese, have fewer significant chronic health conditions and say they feel safe where they live, researchers found.

Those attributes are true of Sarasota and Manatee counties, which recently earned accolades from the Healthiest Weight campaign from the Florida Department of Health for their efforts to reduce obesity.

Sarasota was recently named a “healthiest weight community champion” by state officials for the second year in a row for the plans to increase physical activity and improve nutrition through community gardens and a child care wellness program.

The county is also working with workplaces to support breastfeeding as part of a larger workplace wellness initiative, health officials said Thursday.

“This recognition is another example of how county and municipal governments collaborate with citizens, non-profits and funding organizations to foster healthy environments and healthy lifestyles,” said Chuck Henry, the director for Sarasota County Health and Human Services.

“Together, we work to shape environments so the healthy choice becomes the easy choice,” Henry said.

Bradenton was recognized by the same program for its nine city-maintained parks, and its implementation of pedi-cabs and trolleys in downtown and a new downtown bus station to encourage use of public transportation.

Manatee County is also earning praise for its efforts to keep playgrounds open after school to provide opportunities for kids to stay physically active, and weekly walks and outdoor activities held at the Department of Health in Manatee County for adults to be active after work.

The region also had more residents at a healthy weight than many other places, the survey found.

In Sarasota County, 40.6 percent of adults were at a healthy weight, higher than the state average of 36 percent, according to data collected from the Florida Department of Health.

In Manatee, overweight residents made up 36 percent of the population, but nearly two-thirds of residents in both counties exercised for more than 150 minutes per week, a marker of physical well-being.

“Our research very consistently shows that people that have high well-being scores in all five elements, which Sarasota-Bradenton-North Port have, consistently outdo those that have high well-being in just physical wellness but nothing else,” Witters said.

The San Francisco and Los Angeles regions, for example, have high physical well-being rankings, but in terms of purpose and social metrics, they rank in the middle of the pack.

“Those areas that are thriving in all areas of well-being, they’re just better,” Witters said.

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The region earned top marks for physical, social and financial well-being