The genius of the term "couch potato" lies in how easily the phrase conjures the image of such a person: someone watching endless hours of bad television, eating TV dinners off the coffee table and sitting slouched in an exceedingly comfortable chair.
But where do these people tend to live? Ryan Nickum of the Estately blog tried to figure it out by ranking all 50 states on a number of different indicators, including TV-watching time, prevalence of fast food restaurants, affinity for daytime soap operas (as measured by Facebook interest), exercise frequency, interest in frozen pizza (as measured by Google searches), prevalence of Lay-z-Boy dealers, and interest in video game watching and renting (Google, again).
We took his analysis one step further and created an index based on all seven measures. We standardized the values of all seven measures so that they ran from 0 (least couch potatoey) to 100 (most couch potatoey).
So for instance, the state with the lowest average daily TV-watching time per day was Wyoming, with 123 minutes, while the state with the highest number was West Virginia, with 217 minutes. On that measure we assigned Wyoming a value of zero and West Virginia a value of 100, and set the values of the other states based on where they fell between the two.
A state's couch potato score, then, ranges from a theoretical minimum of zero to a maximum of 700, although in practice the lowest score was 171 (Wyoming) and the highest was 604 (West Virginia). Here's how all the states stack up:
America's couch-potato belt runs from the Deep South up to the Rust Belt. Put it this way: if you were to start from Pittsburgh and float down the Ohio river to where it meets the Mississippi, and then take the Mississippi all the way out to sea, you'd trace the borders of 8 of the 10 biggest couch potato states, by this metric.
These numbers suggest that neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on healthy living -- we came up with low couch potato scores in blue states (Vermont, Oregon, Massachusetts) as well as red ones (Montana, Alaska, Wyoming).
While our index is mostly for fun, it's worth pointing out that these figures generally comport with other broad measures of overall well-being, including Gallup's index of healthy behaviors and the United Health Foundation's health rankings. And all kidding aside, our numbers suggest there's real potential for health researchers to work non-traditional metrics, like data from Google searches and social media, into their measures of health and well-being.
West Virginia, as it happens, isn't only the best place for couch potatoes to live when all seven of the indicators of couch-potatohood are considered. The Appalachian area state performed better (worse?) than any other in several subcategories, too.
Take TV watching, for instance, which West Virginia rules at. Those who live in the state watch about 217 minutes worth of television every day on average, a healthy 15 minutes more than do residents of any other state. Wyoming, which sits at the very opposite side of the spectrum, is apparently a place where the tube isn't too popular. There, people click through cable for just about two hours per day.
West Virginia is a wonderful place to live if you don't like to exercise, too. In no other state do people claim to workout less frequently than they do there (so no judgment!). Roughly 45 percent of West Virginia residents say they exercise frequently (for at least 30 minutes three or more days a week). Alabama (46.7 percent), Arkansas (47.2 percent), and Indiana (47.5) aren't far behind in that regard.
Living in Alaska, Hawaii, or Montana, however, means living among exercise fiends: 64 percent, 61.5 percent, and 61.1 percent of the people who live in each of those states, respectively, say they exercise frequently.
West Virginians also love daytime soap operas, which might not be an official requisite of any particular couch potato, but it's still a pretty fitting one. Nearly 8 percent of West Virginians who are on Facebook have expressed interest in one of the four major daytime soap operas, which just so happens to be the highest percentage in the country (and by an entire percentage point too!). In Kentucky, which is second on the list, the number is roughly 7 percent. In Mississippi, the third most soap opera-crazed state, it's 5.9 percent.
By contrast, in California, only 1.14 percent of people on Facebook have liked one of the four major daytime soap operas.
When it comes to Laz-E-Boys, however, West Virginia isn't all that exceptional. When you compare the number of retailers dedicated to selling the legendary lazy-man chairs in each state to the state's population, West Virginia doesn't crack the top ten, twenty, or even thirty. It ranks 35th.
Delaware and Alaska, which rank first and second, respectively, are far more impressive in this regard.
People also aren't all that interested in frozen pizza in West Virginia, where Google search interest shows the state is 17th on the list. Wisconsin, where people look for frozen pizza the most online, is the standard, Illinois and Minnesota are tied for second, and Iowa is a somewhat distance fourth.
In Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Vermont, and Wyoming, it's worth noting, people couldn't care less about frozen pizza.
Fast food is most available in Nevada, where there is a quick eats joint for every 881 residents, the highest ratio anywhere in the United States. Oklahoma, where it's one to 929, is second; West Virginia, where it's one to 978 is third; and Kentucky, where it's one fast food restaurant per 1,051 people, is fourth.
In Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine, the five states with the fewest fast food restaurants per capita, the story is quite different. There the numbers are one for every 3,622, 3,080, 2,889, 2,738, and 2,683 people, respectively.
The most video game-obsessed state also happens to be Nevada, where Google search interest in major video game viewing site Twitch.tv and video game purchasing site GameFly is the highest. California ranks second, and West Virginia ranks third.
Overall, though, the regional picture that emerges is rather clear.
The Northeast is fairly couch potato-less compared to other parts of the country. So too are the Rockies, and, for the most part, the American West. The Midwest is moderate in its couch potato-ness. Texas, too.
It's easy enough to spot a couch potato relishing in sedentary activities. But if you're out to find some, you might want to direct your attention over to West Virginia (or maybe even just large swaths of the South).
Feature pic courtesy of Flickr user Steve Garner under Creative Commons license