The top five healthiest communities in the country are Los Alamos County, N.M., Douglas County, Colo., Falls Church, Va., Loudoun County, Va. and Broomfield County, Colo. according to U.S. News & World Report, which recently released its fourth annual Healthiest Communities rankings in collaboration with the Aetna Foundation.
The report evaluated approximately 3,000 communities nationwide across 84 health and health-related metrics in 10 categories, from education and economy to population health and housing.
The rankings serve as a tool to assess which communities offer their residents the greatest opportunity to achieve a healthy life and can inform residents, community health leaders and elected officials about policies and best practices for improving public health. This year’s rankings are also accompanied by COVID-19 vaccine rates and other pandemic related data.
The five top-ranked communities all scored above the national average in at least eight of the 10 categories and scored well in measurements of income, employment and educational achievement.
Los Alamos County became the first community to repeat as the healthiest community with its highest scores in the housing, population health and infrastructure categories.
The population health category includes measures of access to care, health behaviors, health conditions and more and was linked to a lower county COVID-19 death rate. More than half of the top 500 Healthiest Communities had fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people than the national case rate and nearly three-quarters had fewer deaths. Four of the top 10 Healthiest Communities had higher vaccine coverage rates than the national average and six of the least-vaccine hesitant counties were in the top 100 of the rankings.
A mental health paradise
Mental health and well-being are top priorities for county leaders coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic as residents across the country have been dealing with the stress of both a health and economic crisis. Honolulu County, Hawaii was the highest-ranked community for the mental health subcategory with the least amount of Medicare beneficiaries with depression and lower levels of adults with frequent mental distress (14-plus days in the past month).
“We are very proud of the number one ranking in mental health. We are healthy because we live in paradise… it is sunny all year,” said Tommy Waters, Honolulu City Council chair and presiding officer.
“We have trade winds, beautiful breeze and white sandy beaches. In other words, we go outside.” He attributes Honolulu’s positive mental health outcomes to their beautiful weather and outdoor lifestyle, however he also points to the policies and priorities Honolulu County made to ensure plenty of equitable mental health resources and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The mayor had a psychologist sit on the health advisory board alongside an epidemiologist to help guide the county’s COVID response,” said Waters.
“We set up a live call center within a week of the first lockdown, with city staff volunteering to do field calls about COVID restrictions and find health and mental health resources.
“We do public service announcements on the local television stations encouraging people to get help and giving them hotline numbers,” he said. “We also supported having families stay together, which is another big key to the community.”
It is not a coincidence that counties with higher income, education and employment levels are able to sustain healthier communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequities in the service delivery system, and the 2021 U.S. News rankings highlight how counties with the resources to invest in their community and the social determinants of health can greatly improve the health and quality of life of their residents.
For more information on the U.S. News Healthiest Communities Rankings 2021 visit https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/rankings.Hero 1