County News

New set of rankings released for healthiest communities

Tags: Health

The Aetna Foundation and U.S. News and World Reports' Healthiest Communities rankings evaluates nearly 3,000 communities nationwide across 10 categories 

The Aetna Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Aetna, and U.S. News & World Report, well-known for its college rankings, announced March 26 the inaugural Healthiest Communities rankings. The new report evaluated nearly 3,000 communities nationwide across 10 categories, from education and population health to infrastructure and economy.

In addition to assessing which communities offer their citizens the greatest opportunity to live a productive, healthy life, the rankings offer insight into the best approaches for improving public health that can be shared and implemented across the country.  

In addition to an overall ranking of the top 500 communities, four peer groupings were developed based on counties’ urban-rural status as tied to population density and the robustness of their economies. The peer groups assure fair comparisons between communities and are categorized by: urban high-performing, urban up-and-coming, rural high-performing and rural up-and-coming. An Honor Roll was also developed that highlights 36 top-performing communities in each peer group from the nine US Census regions.

Aetna Foundation works toward creating the Healthiest Communities

U.S. News & World Report’s Healthiest Communities index showcases communities in the United States that are doing the best job of improving residents’ health through partnerships, expanded public health assessments and various education programs.

Of the 500 ranked communities, 17 received Aetna Foundation support in the past two years through a Cultivating Healthy Community grant or as part of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge.

The programs

The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge launched in 2016 is a partnership between the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of Counties and is administered by CEOs for Cities. The Challenge will award $1.5 million in prizes to cities and counties that show measurable improvements in health outcomes over the course of several years through cross-sector partnerships.

 “Through our collaborative work with the Aetna Foundation on the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge, we have helped communities across the country develop local solutions to their local problems,” said NACo President Roy Charles Brooks. “The Healthiest Communities rankings will help enhance that effort. Beyond just identifying the counties that are improving the health of their residents, the Healthiest Communities rankings will also encourage the continued sharing of best practices that can help community partners across the country to solve serious, complex public health issues.”

The Cultivating Healthy Communities program began in 2016. Since then, the Aetna Foundation has awarded more than $4 million in grants. These grants support organizations working to address social determinants of health, such as improving green spaces and access to healthy food, as well as decreasing the exposure to air and water contaminants.

“Research has shown that in the United States, your ZIP code is a greater predictor of your life expectancy than your genetic code. In other words, where you live has a significant impact on your overall health,” said Mark T. Bertolini, Aetna chairman. “Our work with U.S. News will provide communities with data that can help them better understand opportunities for improvement, as well as inspire ideas for change by showcasing the best practices of communities across the country.”

Key findings in the 2018 Healthiest Communities rankings:

The top five Healthiest Communities all score above the national average in at least nine of the 10 categories evaluated. Falls Church, Va., is No. 1, ranking in the top three communities nationally for education, economy and public safety. 

Douglas County and Broomfield County, Colo., follow at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Los Alamos County, N.M., places fourth, while Dukes County, Mass., rounds out the top five.

Virginia and Colorado communities dominate the top 10. Among the top 10: in Virginia, the cities of Falls Church (1) and Fairfax (6), and Loudoun County (10); in Colorado, Douglas (2), Broomfield (3), Routt (8) and Ouray (9) counties. Together, communities in the two states boast an average of 62 primary care doctors for every 100 people and an average life expectancy that is more than a year longer than the national average.

Peer Groups: The top 100 communities in each peer group range from Keweenaw County, Mich. — a county with a total population of just over 2,000 — to Middlesex County, Mass., which is home to more than 1.5 million people. Rural counties stand out in the community vitality category that includes measures such as voter participation and homeownership rates, while up-and-coming economies perform strongly in the food and nutrition category, which includes access to large supermarkets and fewer cases of obesity and diabetes.

Across all four peer groups, top counties rank well in the population health category, which looks at access to care, mental health, health behaviors such as preventative care visits and tobacco use, prevalence of health conditions such as cancer and heart disease among Medicare beneficiaries and health outcomes including life expectancy and teen birth rates.

 Honor Roll: When organized by region, a number of communities that may not be at the top on a national stage stand out among their regional peers. Communities that are highlighted on the 2018 Healthiest Communities Honor Roll that did not rank in the top 500 include Lexington city, Va.; Orleans County, Vt.; and Pickett County, Tenn.

To compile the rankings, U.S. News worked with the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems, a research institution skilled in community health assessment, and consulted with members of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics. The rankings are based on 80 metrics drawn from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Contact the Editor

Bev Schlotterbeck
Executive Editor
(202) 942-4249
bschlott@naco.org