The same county tops America’s list of healthiest communities for the second year in a row

(CNN) – As the country reopens in an ongoing pandemic, Los Alamos County, New Mexico, has been ranked the healthiest community in the US for the second year in a row.

Located approximately 40 miles from Sante Fe, the county houses canyons and plateaus connected by a 58-mile trail network, 13 developed public parks, and an extensive golf course. The community of more than 19,000 people scored highest in the categories of housing, population health and infrastructure, according to the annual report of classification Healthier Communities from US News & World Report released Tuesday.

It is the first community to be ranked number one more than once since US News released the rankings in 2018, according to the report.

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Known for its vast and impressive mountain ranges, Los Alamos County also ranked among the top communities for factors such as low rates of covid-19 cases, citizens’ income, employment, and educational attainment. However, the county and the four finalists: Douglas County, Colorado; Falls Church, Virginia; Loudoun, Virginia; and San Miguel, Colorado, all scored below average in the educational equity subcategory.

Families and individuals walk through a snow-covered valley in Los Alamos County, New Mexico.

“A healthy environment is part of what definitely makes (Los Alamos County) a healthy community,” previously told CNN Los Alamos County Council President Sara Scott, who was not involved in the report. “People have the opportunity and interest to go out, take advantage of our mountains, trails, ride a bike, ride a horse (and) play golf.”

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

That has included donations related to the pandemic, voluntary mask making, updated communication between health officials and citizens on safety precautions, and compliance with the county’s public health response. The census responses have also helped county officials identify needs and priorities, Scott said.


A rainbow over the fields of Los Alamos County, New Mexico, in the fall of 2016.

Colorado’s Gilpin, Teller, Pitkin, Summit, and Park counties earned the top five spots on the environmental ranking, which considered factors such as air quality, drinking water safety, the amount of land area covered by trees, and how many people they lived within a half mile of a park.

US News and the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems based the rankings on how nearly 3,000 American communities scored on 84 health and health-related metrics located in 10 categories: community vitality, equity, economics, education, environment, food and nutrition, population health, housing, public safety and infrastructure. For each metric, the researchers scaled the values ​​for each community relative to the average for that metric.

A community’s public health past affects its present

Most of the data used to establish the rankings predates the pandemic, but some tools highlighted county vaccination rates and COVID-19 cases. Kauai County, Hawaii, for example, had the lowest case rate, with 444 per 100,000 residents between the onset of the pandemic and May 31, 2021. And four of the top 10 communities had full vaccination rates. higher than the national rate of 41.4% as of June 4, according to the report.

In contrast, vaccine indecision was associated with poorer health scores: None of the 10 most indecisive counties made it to the 100 healthiest communities, but six of the 10 least undecided counties ranked in the 100 healthiest communities.

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“What I learned from speaking with health care 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 to build, not at the time of the pandemic, but 10 years earlier, ”said Alex Matthews, data editor for US News & World Report.

“A lot of the counties that have really high vaccination rates also scored well in our food nutrition category. And those two things don’t seem to be related (at first), ”said Matthews, adding that in some communities, Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program connects local farmers with families in need of affordable access to produce.

“What ends up happening is, years later, when public health authorities come up to you and say, ‘Hey, we need you to wear masks’ or’ Hey, we need you to get this injection, ‘you think to yourself,’ Well, of course. These people are committed to my health; They have been investing in it every day. So I’m going to listen to them and I’m going to trust them. ‘

The best community for mental health

Hawaii counties ranked in the top three in the mental health category, with Honolulu County ranked first.

Honolulu has “coordinated systems that focus on making sure you stay on top of” and respond to residents experiencing mental illness, homelessness and other crises, Matthews said.


A woman stretches out on an overlook 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 that people can move through their day and interact with their community,” Susan L. Polan, director, previously told CNN. Associate Executive for Public Affairs and Advocacy at the American Public Health Association. Polan was not involved in the study. In the report, poor mental health was associated with higher rates of poverty, inadequate physical activity, heart disease, diabetes, and shorter life expectancy.

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

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In defining potential households, 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 wide range of facilities. other services, ”Polan said. Local governments interested in investing in economically sound local businesses and communities are other good signs of healthy residential areas, he added.

The Healthier Communities project is the result of support from the Aetna Foundation, a health philanthropic organization; CVS Health; and the Center for Applied Research and Participation Systems at the University of Missouri, a community health research institution. 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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