(CNN) — As the country moves through a more controlled phase of the pandemic, Los Alamos County, New Mexico, has been ranked the healthiest community in the US for the third year in a row. Located approximately 40 miles from Santa Fe, Los Alamos County is home to canyons and mesas connected by a 56-mile network of trails, 13 developed public parks, and an extensive golf course. The community of more than 19,000 people scored highest in the housing, population health and infrastructure categories, according to US News & World Report’s annual Healthiest Communities Rankings released Wednesday. Known for its vast and impressive mountain ranges, Los Alamos County is the first community to rank No. 1 more than twice since US News launched the rankings in 2018, according to the report. However, the county and the final four — Falls Church, Virginia; Douglas County, Colorado; Morgan County, Utah; and Carver County, Minnesota—all scored below average in the housing 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,” Los Alamos County Councilwoman Sara Scott, who was not involved in the report, previously told CNN. “People have the opportunity and the interest to get out there, take advantage of our mountains, trails, bike riding, horseback riding (and) play golf.” When Los Alamos County ranked first in 2020, Scott said a generous community that takes health and safety seriously contributes to what makes the county so healthy overall. That has included pandemic-related donations, volunteers making masks, up-to-date communication between health officials and citizens about safety precautions, and the public’s compliance with the county’s layered public health response. Census responses have also helped county officials identify needs and priorities, Scott said. A rainbow towers over the fields of Los Alamos County, New Mexico, in the fall of 2016. The top five places in the environmental rankings went to: Florence County, Wisconsin Iron County, Michigan Forest County, Wisconsin Summit County , Colo. Broadwater County, Montana. This category considers factors such as air quality, the safety of drinking water, the amount of land covered by trees, and how many people lived within a half mile of a park. US News and the Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems at the University of Missouri based the rankings on nearly 3,000 US communities scoring on 89 health and health-related metrics located in 10 categories: health vitality community, equity, economy, 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 Some tools looked at counties’ rates of COVID-19 cases, deaths, and vaccinations. Communities with a higher number of cumulative Covid-19 deaths (per 100,000 population) had lower rates of post-secondary education, shorter life expectancies and a lower proportion of adults who had recently engaged in leisure-time physical activity, it found. The report. Communities with a higher proportion of people who had obtained at least an associate’s degree tended to have higher rates of vaccination and booster against covid-19. Communities with higher rates of vaccination also had lower rates of death from covid-19. “What I’ve learned from talking to healthcare 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 in the time of the pandemic, but 10 years earlier,” Alex Matthews, then data editor for US News & World Report, told CNN in 2021. In 2021, many counties that had “really high vaccination rates also scored well on our food nutrition category. two things don’t seem related (at first),” Matthews said, adding that in some communities, a fruit and vegetable prescription program connects local farmers with families who need affordable access to produce. “What ends up happening is, years later, when public health authorities come to you and say, ‘Hey, we need you to wear masks,’ or ‘Hey, we need you to get this vaccine,’ you’re like, ‘Well, of course. . These people are committed to my health; they’ve been investing in it every day. So I’m going to listen to them and I’m going to trust them.'” The Leading Community for Mental Health The four leading communities for the mental health category were: Fairfax County, Virginia Santa Clara County, California San Mateo County, California Honolulu County, Hawaii. “Geographically, communities in the DMV area (Washington DC/Maryland/Virginia) score highly on this part of our assessment, with Fairfax County leading the way at No. 1,” said Chris Wolf, principal data analyst from U.S. News. A woman stretches in Los Alamos County, New Mexico. Community measures of “physical health and wellness can also affect mental health because they can limit or support the way people can go about their 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 investigation. In the report, lower mental health scores were associated with higher poverty rates, teen birth and smoking rates, and lower life expectancy. US News produces the rankings to inform community health officials about best policies and practices for a productive and healthy life, according to the report. When searching for 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 leaders, affordable housing, public transportation, and a whole host of other services,” Polan said. Local governments interested in investing in communities and economically strong businesses that participate locally are other good signs of healthy residential areas, she added. The Healthier Communities project is the result of support from CVS Health and the Center for Applied Research and Systems Engagement 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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