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Tracking the Well-Being of Texas Metros Areas

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Gallup polling released its “U.S. Community Well-Being Tracking” poll this week, which charts the percentage of residents of a given area basedon their overall health and well-being. The list looks at a wide swathe of U.S. cities, but Gallup’s filtering also allows for us to break it down by state, meaning that we can take a look at every Texas metro area with at least 300,000 people in it (which gives the short-shrift to much of West Texas), and put them in a head-to-head competition. 

The poll breaks down several different categories by percentage of the population: Obesity, frequent exercise, frequent consumption of fresh produce, smoking, daily stress, and insurance—as well as an overall well-being number. 

Diving into these numbers, some things that seem obvious are, in fact, obvious: Stress levels, for example, are higher in more impoverished parts of the state, which means that the Rio Grande Valley reports stress rates in the neighborhood of 63 percent. (Of course, the variance between the most stressed and least stressed parts of the state is fairly mild—Austin is the least-stressed place in Texas, but still 57 percent of residents report daily stress.) 

More interesting are the numbers surrounding a handful of health indicators: Frequent exercise, frequent consumption of fresh produce, and insurance coverage are all at their highest rate in the Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood area. This makes sense if you think about it for half a second—an area surrounding a major Army post is going to be populated by people who know how to work out; whose meal-planning involves more than just the Whataburger drive-thru; and who likely have military insurance. (Of course, Killeen also has more smokers than anywhere else in the state, with nearly thirty percent of the region—or more than twice the percentage of smokers in El Paso.)

Like stress, poverty is also a fairly good indicator of obesity rates: the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area reports obesity rates of 38.3 percent, which is nearly fifteen points higher than the lowest-ranked city, Austin. (Corpus Christi, Beaumont, and Port Arthur also hover near the top of that list—while San Antonio has the second-highest obesity rate of any large city in the entire country.)

Shockingly, more than half of the respondents in the Rio Grande Valley report being uninsured, as well. Its 51.2 percent of the population without insurance coverage not just the highest percentage of people in the state, it’s also the highest percentage in the entire country by a wide margin—in second place is El Paso, with the still-very-high number at 34.5 percent, and the only other community in the entire country with more than thirty percent uninsured is Yakima, Washington, a Central Washington city with a population under 100,000 people. 

The poll also determines a number it declares the “overall well-being,” though that’s not a percentage of the population and it doesn’t explain precisely how it arrives at that figure. Whatever exactly it means, it seems that people are happiest in—big surprise—wealthier cities: Austin, Dallas, and Houston take the top spots there, while Beaumont, Corpus Christi, and McAllen bring up the rear. 

Ultimately, numbers like “overall well-being” may not tell us much, but there’s a lot to learn from the realization that such wide gulfs between the insured and the uninsured, or the people who smoke and who don’t, or who are able to take advantage of their access to fresh food and those who aren’t, exist here in Texas. The fact that there’s a strong correlation between poverty and lower public health isn’t really a revelation, but it’s sobering to realize nonetheless. 

(image via flickr)

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