Iowa now ranks as the ninth-healthiest state in the nation, according to the 2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index released this morning.  The state moved up seven places from No. 16 in the 2011 rankings.

The national index, based on daily telephone interviews by Gallup with more than 350,000 Americans in 2012, is being used by Iowa to gauge its progress in its Healthiest State Initiative. Gov. Terry Branstad announced the initiative in August 2011 and set a goal of making the state the healthiest in the nation by 2016. Iowa ranked 19th at that time.

Iowa’s index score of 68.1, up from 67.4 the previous year, placed it at No. 9 relative to the other states. The index is based on six separate measurements: life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment and basic access to medical services.  

Iowa’s significant improvement in one category – work environment – appears to be the biggest factor that propelled its overall score into the top 10. The state improved from No. 23 in work environment to No. 4 among all states in that category. The state also moved up in rankings for the physical health and basic access categories. Its ranking remained unchanged in two categories, life evaluation and healthy behavior, and decreased in emotional health.

In November, the Healthiest State Initiative announced five specific goals for improving the state's well-being, along with five committee chairs to spearhead those efforts.

Two other Midwest states – Minnesota and Nebraska – also ranked in the top 10, at third and seventh, respectively. Those states were among seven that maintained their position in the top 10. Three states, including Iowa, Vermont and Massachusetts, joined the top 10 in 2012. On the other end of the scale, Louisiana, Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma joined the bottom 10 states.