Los Alamos County, New Mexico is the Healthiest Community in the U.S.

Located about 40 miles from Sante Fe, the county is home to canyons and mesa connected by a 58-mile trail network, 13 developed public parks and a sprawling golf course. The community of more than 19,000 people scored highest in the housing, population health and infrastructure categories, according to the annual US News & World Report Healthier Communities ranking report, published Wednesday.

Known for its vast and breathtaking mountain ranges, Los Alamos County is the first community to rank first more than twice since US News released the ranking in 2018, according to the report.

However, the municipality and the four runners-up — Falls Church, Virginia; Douglas County, Colorado; Morgan County, Utah; and Carver County, Minnesota — all scored below average in the housing subcategory.

“A healthy environment is part of what definitely makes (Los Alamos County) a healthy community,” said the Los Alamos County Councilor. Sara Scott, who was not involved in the report, previously told CNN. “People have the opportunity and interest to go out, enjoy our mountains, hiking, biking, horseback riding (and) golf.”

When Los Alamos County took first place in 2020, Scott said that a donor community that takes health and safety seriously contributes to what makes the county so healthy overall.

This includes pandemic-related donations, voluntary mask manufacturing, up-to-date communication between health officials and citizens about safety precautions, and public compliance with the county’s layered public health response. Census responses also helped county officials identify needs and priorities, Scott said.

The top five in the environment rankings went to Florence County, Wisconsin; Iron County, Michigan; Forest County, Wisconsin; Summit County, Colorado; and Broadwater County, Montana. This category considers factors such as air quality, safe drinking water, amount of area covered by trees and how many people lived within half a mile of a park.

U.S. News and the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Systems of Engagement based the rankings on how nearly 3,000 U.S. communities scored on 89 health and health-related metrics placed in 10 categories: community vitality, equity, economy. , education, environment, food and nutrition, population health, housing, public security and infrastructure. For each metric, the researchers scaled each community’s values ​​relative to the mean of that metric.

A community’s public health past affects its present

Some tools analyzed county Covid-19 cases, death rates and vaccinations. Communities with the highest cumulative deaths from Covid-19 (per 100,000 population) had lower rates of post-secondary education, lower life expectancy and lower proportions of adults who recently engaged in physical activity during leisure time, according to the report.

Communities with a higher share of people who had at least an associate degree tended to have higher rates of Covid-19 vaccination and booster. Communities with higher vaccination rates also had lower Covid-19 death rates.

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“What I’ve learned from talking to health and public health experts is that … the kind of public health infrastructure and trust in public health that you need to have for a pandemic is something you start building, not at the time of the pandemic. . , but 10 years earlier,” Alex Matthews, then data editor at US News & World Report, told CNN in 2021.

By 2021, many counties that had “really high vaccination rates also performed well in our food nutrition category. And those two things don’t seem related (at first),” Matthews said, adding that in some communities, a Fruit and Vegetable Revenue Program connects local farmers with families who need affordable access to produce.

“What ends up happening is, years later, public health officials come to you and say, ‘Hey, we need you to wear masks,’ or ‘Hey, we need you to take this picture,’ you think to yourself. , of course. These people are investing in my health; they’re investing in it every day. So I’m going to listen to them and trust them.'”

The best community for mental health

The top four communities in the mental health category were Fairfax County, Virginia; Santa Clara County, California; San Mateo County, California; and Honolulu County, Hawaii.

“Geographically, communities in the DMV (Washington DC/Maryland/Virginia) area score high on this part of our assessment, with Fairfax County leading the way in first place,” said Chris Wolf, data analyst at US News.

A woman stretches out on top of an observation deck in Los Alamos County, New Mexico.

Community measures of “physical health and well-being can also affect mental health because they can limit or support the way individuals are able to move throughout the day and interact with their community,” Susan L. Polan, associate executive director of public affairs and advocacy at the American Public Health Association, he previously told CNN. Polan was not involved in the research. On the report, Lower mental health scores were associated with higher rates of poverty, smoking and teenage birth rates, and lower life expectancy.

US News produces the rankings to inform community health officials about best policies and practices for healthy, productive lives, according to the report.

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When identifying potential homes, people should assess whether the area is “a cohesive community, with easy access to healthy food, safe places to play and walk, good schools, diverse residents and leadership, affordable housing, public transportation, and a full range of amenities.” other services,” said Polan. Local governments interested in investing in economically sound and locally engaged communities and businesses are another good sign of healthy residential areas, she added.

The Healthier Communities project results from support from CVS Health and the Center for Applied Research and Systems of Engagement at the University of Missouri, a research institution for community health. The researchers based the rankings on data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Census Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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