Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Unhealthy Behaviour Axis

A new map from Gallup and AHIP (and a continuation of their study of well-being across the states, covered here before), measures states by healthy behaviour:

healthy behaviour us map

Says Gallup:
The midyear results from the AHIP State and Congressional District Resource for Well-Being, a product of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, find the nation as a whole dropping substantively on the Healthy Behavior Sub-Index, from 63.7 in 2008 to 62.6 in the first half of 2009. The Healthy Behavior Sub-Index is one of six sub-indexes that make up the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, and asks Americans four questions: do you smoke; did you eat healthy all day yesterday; in the last seven days, on how many days did you exercise for 30 minutes or more; and in the last seven days, on how many days did you have five or more servings of fruits and vegetables. The Healthy Behavior Sub-Index scores for the nation and for each state are calculated based on a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 would be a perfect score.

Healthy Behavior scores in most states are trending down in the first half of 2009 compared with 2008, though many have not decreased by a statistically significant degree. Mississippi, whose score ranks among the bottom 10, is the only state to record a statistically significant increase in its healthy behavior score thus far in 2009.
The healthiest states, in order, are Vermont, Hawaii, Montana, California, New Mexico, New Hanpshire, Maine, Delaware, Idaho, Wyoming, and Oregon. The least healthy is Kentucky, followed by Arkansas, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Illinois, and Louisiana.

This is sort of a weird map. On the one hand, there is a very clear nexus of unhealthy states - all of the 'higher range' states are contiguous, in fact, with 'mid-range' states mostly forming a periphery around that core. But the weird thing is that the group of unhelthy states, despite its contiguity, transcends just about every other cultural and geographical distinction youcould try to make: North/South; warm-weather/cold-weather; urban/rural; manufacturing/service/agricultural economy; liberal/conservative; Obama/McCain; large/small minority population... If you break down these states by any intuitive metric, they seem to form no pattern at all, yet they create as tight a spatial clustering as you'll find on any map of the states. Is it a coincidence, or is there some hidden variable here that would explain the pattern?

The map does vaguely remind me of the personality type maps from Richard Florida. In particular, there are a few personality traits which seem to notably predominate both in the South and in the Midwest, in roughly the same areas as the "unhealthy behaviour" states in the map above: people in those regions tends to be extroverted, conscientious, and not very open to experience. Do those traits correlate with smoking, eating junk food, and not exercising? Don't see any reason why they should, but who knows.

Via M. Yglesias.


Richard said...

Maybe. Maybe not being open to experience means you eat the same way your parents ate (which in the Midwest & South means meat&potatoes and fried foods, stereotypically speaking), and being extroverted eggs that on, since you spend a lot of time with friends who also have unhealthy eating habits or don't engage in athletic activity.

I can say, from living in California, Illinois, and the NYC area, that people in Cali (and probably the whole West) like outdoors activity more (of course, they can also engage in it year-round). Also, there's more peer pressure to slim down when almost everyone your age is toned (in Cali) or thin enough to fit in to fashonable clothing (in NYC) while you don't feel as bad about letting yourself go in the Midwest, where you can do so and still be thinner than the majority of the population.

Ben said...

I think the missing variable is education, and perhaps age. The Midwest is older, certainly less educated than the Northeast or the West Coast. The South is not as old as the Midwest, but educational attainment is lower.

What Richard says about regional cultural attitudes is true too.

Gus Snarp said...

I don't think there's one variable, it's a combination of factors. I suspect you could get it with a multiple regression analysis.

I moved from one of the healthy states, to a middle state, to an unhealthy state, and my eating habits have gotten less healthy, in spite of my desire to eat healthier. I also exercise less. On the other hand I also quit smoking and drink less.

Could the mid west be making me fat? It's not my fault, it's geography!

Richard said...

The Midwest isn't older than the Northeast, and it's pretty well-educated as well ( Make sure your stereotypes are accurate, at least. Jeez.

Anonymous said...

It would be more interesting to see this data at the county level. I bet the urban/rural divide would appear then.

Chachy said...

Richard - Letting yourself go because others have might have the quality of a negative feedback, but of course it can't be the cause of why people there are fatter in the first place.

Ben - But still, the diversity of states... maybe that can apply for Kentucky, but Illinois? Wisconsin? And Florida and Pennsylvania are the two oldest states...

GS - I think it's fair to blame the Midwest for most things. High fructose corn syrup, for one. And the Chicago School of economists. And GWB's second term.

Joseph said...

these regions share a few things: often extreme weather climates, extensive interstate systems, and a corresponding lack of public transit options. Consider all this together: extremely cold weather in the midwest leads to mostly sedentary, unhealthy behaviors, whereas the sweltering weather of the south, in this age of air conditioning and the like, also leads to sedentary, unhealthy behavior. couple this with deeply ingrained disposition to hop in the gas-guzzler (made all the easier by extensive interstates and virtually non-existent public transit) whenever your obese whims need immediate gratification and i think you're pretty far along toward explaining some aspects of these phenomena.

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