Cleaveland: We could be better than 47th

Cleaveland: We could be better than 47th

March 7th, 2013 by By Clif Cleaveland in Life Entertainment

Dr. Clif Cleaveland

Dr. Clif Cleaveland

Tennessee ranked 47th among the 50 states in the most recent Gallup Healthways Well-being Index (

This survey, which is based on hundreds of daily interviews conducted by telephone, has been issued annually since 2008. It compares states in terms of how their citizens assess the quality of their lives. States are ranked in terms of emotional and physical health, work environment, healthy behaviors and basic access to services such as health care.

Little change has been seen in the index during its five years, which overlap the current economic downturn.

The top 10 states in the index are Hawaii, Colorado, Minnesota, Utah, Vermont, Nebraska, Montana, New Hampshire,

Iowa and Massachusetts. These states generally had higher median incomes, lower rates of obesity and a higher percentage of residents with high school diplomas or higher educational attainment.

The bottom 10 are Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Lower life expectancy, reduced median incomes, and higher rates of obesity characterized these states.

Tennessee's well-being index (WBI) was 64, compared to the 71.1 for Hawaii. Our life-expectancy was eighth lowest at 76.2. Median household income was $41,693, the sixth lowest, and 84.2 percent of our residents had high school diplomas, the 12th lowest.

Detailed statistical profiles are provided for each state. The Tennessee report is necessary reading for every citizen -- and elected official -- who cares about the future of our state.

The multi-page analysis for Tennessee is subdivided into metropolitan areas and congressional districts. Among 188 metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S., Nashville/Davidson County ranks 83rd. Chattanooga ranks 178th.

Our 3rd Congressional District ranks 413th among 435 districts. The adjacent, sprawling 4th District ranks 434th, next to dead last.

We can ignore this survey and pretend that all is well in the Volunteer State. A drive through many of our urban neighborhoods and impoverished small towns and rural counties will contradict this attitude. Areas of urban blight exist in every city. Once-vibrant small towns seem listless and feature too many vacant businesses. Many Tennesseans do not foresee a bright future for themselves.

Alternatively, administrative and legislative leaders could embark upon a listening tour of our state to make a more detailed assessment of the shortcomings reported in the WBI.

Armed with this information, Gov. Bill Haslam could convene a meeting of representatives of business, education, health care and social services to craft solutions. We can move the state upward from 47th place in the WBI.

From my reading of the survey, several needs could be addressed immediately in health care.

A state-initiated educational campaign could promote more nutritious diets and regular exercise from childhood forward. All media would be enlisted to develop an integrated series of messages on the benefits of consuming a healthy diet.

Sports celebrities would be called upon to lead a campaign highlighting the advantages of exercise as part of each day's agenda. Imagine the influence that Peyton Manning would have as a powerful spokesman for exercise across the age spectrum.

Immediate expansion of TennCare would make health care available to 360,000 currently uninsured Tennesseans, many of whom have chronic health conditions that go untreated.

In mental health, we need an independent assessment of in-patient and out-patient treatment options for every region of our state. Jailing of mentally troubled adolescents and adults is simply unacceptable.

But without data, we cannot determine how to correct deficiencies. Do we have adequate, accessible staff and facilities across the state to meet mental health needs? Are mental health services realistically funded?

This population especially depends upon our advocacy.

The WBI reflects cries for help that can be ignored or constructively addressed. Here is an opportunity for pragmatic political and civic leadership to replace rancor and partisanship that gets us nowhere.

Contact Clif Cleaveland at