Behold the healthiest and least healthy states in the US

Think you are just a naturally healthy person? Think again. It probably has a lot more to do with where you live than whether you think green juice tastes good or not.

A poll by ValuePenguin took a look at eight different metrics to determine which states were the fittest. They included questions about how many fitness workers there were per 100,000 residents, fitness establishments per 100,000 residents, percentages of smokers, adults with a BMI over 30, or access to healthy foods.

They also included the percentage of adults who report no time to participate in leisurely, physical activity and the percentage of those who live close to a location where they can exercise, such as a rec center or a park.

The healthiest states

According to the data, the Top 10 healthiest states are:

  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • California
  • Colorado
  • New Jersey
  • Maryland
  • Vermont
  • New York
  • Washington
  • Utah

Though the list seems chronological, there are three states tied for healthiest with a score of 29 out of 30: Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California. Colorado, New Jersey, and Maryland are also tied with 28, and Vermont, Washington, Utah, and New York all scored a 27.

So what indicates a state’s ability to stay healthy? This study investigated the formal exercise aspect, including the services of personal trainers and gyms. Each of the top ten healthiest states reports “more fitness instructors or trainers per 100,000 residents than the median across all 50 states;” that number is 80 trainers.

Every state on the top ten list also has a record number of fitness centers per resident. Utah is the only exception – it lands in the bottom 25% of states when considering gyms per capita.

The unhealthiest states

The least healthy states in the U.S. are:

  • Arkansas
  • Tennessee
  • Mississippi
  • Louisiana
  • Kentucky
  • Alabama
  • West Virginia
  • South Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Indiana

In contrast to the fittest states, the 10 least fit states report much lower rates of both gyms and fitness instructors per resident. Ohio and Oklahoma are leading the pack, and have only slightly fewer health trainers or fitness instructors than the national median. Otherwise, all other states on the list have as low as 24 fitness instructors per 100,000 people.  

“The discrepancy is similarly stark,” the study adds, “when it comes to fitness establishments per 100,000.” Whereas the healthiest states report an average of 80 gyms per 100,000 residents, the unhealthiest states report less than 23.

In the states that represent the least fit populations, there’s also a lack of natural exercise opportunities. A high percentage of residents tend to report that they do not live within a “reasonable distance” of a rec center, park, or public, free sporting facility. In eight of these states, ValuePenguin reports that “fewer than 75% of residents have access to exercise opportunities” at all, including gyms, trainers or parks.

Many within this list of the least fit states also report a lack of free time that they can devote to exercising. Twenty-three percent of Michigan residents report that they have no downtime to devote to physical activity, which is equal to the national average.

Other factors that make states unhealthy

The top two indicators of unfit states, other than physical exercise, are obesity and cigarette smoking. There’s also a problem that the fittest states are plagued with that seems to be less prevalent in unfit states: binge drinking.

In general, ValuePenguin “found an enduring prevalence of smokers in nearly every state,” despite their ranking on the health metric. At a minimum, one out of every eight Americans are smokers in every state other than Washington, California, and Utah. This could be partially attributed to the excise tax, which is higher in Washington and California than the national average.

As one could infer, the fittest states in the nation have the lowest populations with BMIs in the medically obese range. The only exception is Maryland, which achieved a ValuePenguin score of 28 despite more than 31% of its population qualifying as obese, which is higher than the national average.

The study reports, however, that “statistics are deceptive” when referring to the number of obese Americans.

“The floor for obesity,” ValuePenguin states, “is much higher than the other measurements used to gauge a state’s fitness.” For instance, if a particular state has an obese population of less than 27%, they already place in the top quarter of healthiest states. The only two states with an obese population of 25% or less are Colorado and California, and even then, one in five residents are considered medically obese.

Finally, the most troubling of these statistics may in fact be the amount of binge drinking occurring in the most seemingly healthy states.

“Among the top 25% best-performing states,” ValuePenguin notes, “six of 12 have more than the median share of residents who say they overindulge in alcohol consumption.” This includes the healthiest state, Massachusetts, in which 24% of residents report to binge drinking.