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America's most miserable states

Obesity is exceptionally high in seven of the states that ranked lowest for overall well-being.

Americans are not any happier than they were last year. In fact, they are slightly more miserable. At least, that’s what the recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows. The annual index measures six areas of well-being, including life evaluation, physical health and work environment. In 2011, the national well-being score declined slightly from 2010 and was the lowest since the survey began in 2008.

On top of calculating an overall national level of well-being, the index also calculates the well-being for each state, assigning scores from 0 to 100, with 100 representing ideal well-being. The national score dropped slightly in 2011 to 66.2 from 66.8 in 2010. Like the national score, the best-off and worst-off states are largely unchanged.

Hawaii remains in first place and West Virginia is in last.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed Gallup’s findings in order to identify objective measures that appear to impact well-being. Many of the states where people report having the lowest levels of well-being suffer from many of the same financial, health and social ills. Eight of the 11 fall within the 15 states with the lowest median household incomes. Poverty is particularly high in many. Many of the worst-off states also have relatively low levels of education. Seven of the 11 have some of the lowest rates of residents with at least a high school diploma.

Well-being has not improved since the financial crisis began in 2008, reflecting the moribund U.S. economy. Most states have imposed austerity measures to combat budget shortfalls. Gallup notes that “reductions in public services, public-sector layoffs or salary cuts, and decreases in federal aid” have hindered improvements in well-being across the country.

According to Gallup, states in some areas of the country continue to do better than others. Of the 10 states with the highest levels of well-being, nine are either in the West or Midwest. Of the 10 states with the lowest well-being scores, five are located in the South -- a reality since the survey began.

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Perhaps the most common shared factor among the states that report the lowest well-being is poor health. Nine of the states on this list are among the 15 states with the lowest life expectancy. Obesity is exceptionally high in seven. Seven also fall within the top 10 states that have the highest rates of smoking. Rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes are also all particularly high.

In addition to the information from Gallup, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Social Science Research Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

These are America’s most miserable states.

1. West Virginia

  • Well-being index score: 62.3
  • Life expectancy: 75.2 (2nd lowest)
  • Obesity: 32.5 percent (2nd highest)
  • Median household income: $38,218 (2nd lowest)
  • Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 83.2 percent (8th lowest)

West Virginia residents feel the most miserable in the country. It appears that they have many reasons to feel this way. The state is particularly poor. It has the second-lowest median household income in the country at $38,218, and the sixth-highest rate of poverty. Residents also face a number of health issues. More than one in 10 West Virginians have had a heart attack or suffer from coronary artery disease -- the highest rate in the country. The state has the third-highest rates of cancer and diabetes. It also has the highest rate of smokers, with 26.8 percent of adults indulging in the habit. It has the second-highest rate of obesity. These problems affect life expectancy, which at 75.2 years in West Virginia is the lowest in the country.

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2. Kentucky

  • Well-being index score: 63.3
  • Life expectancy: 76.2 (7th lowest)
  • Obesity: 31.3 percent (5th highest)
  • Median household income: $40,062 (4th lowest)
  • Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 81.9 percent (5th lowest)

For the second year in a row, Kentucky’s well-being score is the second lowest. Residents consider themselves among the worst-off in the country in life evaluation, healthy behavior and both physical and emotional health. The state is relatively poor, with the fourth-lowest median household income and the fourth-highest rate of poverty. Residents have a low level of education compared to many other states, as only 81.9 percent of adults have at least a high school diploma -- the fifth-lowest rate. The state also has a low life expectancy and among the highest rates of smoking, obesity and heart disease, as well as the highest rate of cancer in the country.

3. Mississippi

  • Well-being index score: 63.4
  • Life expectancy: 74.8 (the lowest)
  • Obesity: 34.0 percent (the highest)
  • Median household income: $36,851 (the lowest)
  • Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 81.0 percent (3rd lowest)

Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation by a number of metrics. Its median household income is $36,851, which is the lowest in the country. It also has the highest poverty rate in the country at 21.8 percent. Mississippi has among the lowest rates of adults with a high school diploma or more. Health is also a major issue in the state. Mississippi has the lowest life expectancy in the country, at 74.8 years -- almost four years less than the national average. Mississippi has the highest obesity rate in the nation at 34 percent. It also has among the five highest rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and tobacco use among states. It is no wonder that Mississippi residents feel so poorly as measured by the third-lowest well-being score.

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4. Delaware

  • Well-being index score: 64.2
  • Life expectancy: 78.3 (23rd lowest)
  • Obesity: 28.0 percent  (20th highest)
  • Median household income: $55,847 (10th highest)
  • Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 87.7 percent (24th lowest)

Delaware’s overall life satisfaction rank fell from seventh worst in the country in 2010 to fourth worst in 2011. The biggest reason for this was a major decline in self-reported health. Delaware’s physical health rank fell from 24th worst in the country to tenth worst. The state is among the 25 worst for diabetes, heart disease and obesity, and has the 11th highest rate of cancer. Delaware also has the worst score in the country for Gallup’s work environment ranking, which measures elements such as job satisfaction, the ability to use one’s strengths at work and the way supervisors treat their employees. Delaware also has the third-highest violent crime rate in the country.

5. Ohio

  • Well-being index score: 64.5
  • Life expectancy: 77.5 (13th lowest)
  • Obesity: 29.2 percent (16th highest)
  • Median household income: $45,090 (17th lowest)
  • Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 88.1 percent (24th highest)

Ohio ranks within the 10 least well-off states in four of the six categories considered by Gallup in its Well-Being Index. This includes life evaluation, emotional health, healthy behavior and work environment. The state ranks quite poorly when it comes to health metrics, as it has among the highest rates of cancer, diabetes and smoking in the country. Its residents’ life expectancy is also relatively low, at 77.5 years. Median household income is fairly low in the state and the poverty rate is somewhat high; yet neither of these metrics are among the country’s worst.

Click here to read the rest of the list of America's most miserable states.