Los Alamos County, New Mexico, has been named the healthiest US municipality for the third consecutive year as the nation navigates a more regulated phase of the pandemic.
The county, which is about 40 miles from Sante Fe, has a vast golf course, 13 developed public parks, and canyons and mesas that are connected by a 58-mile trail system. According to the annual U.S. News & World Report Healthiest Communities rankings report released Wednesday, the city of more than 19,000 people placed top in the housing, population health, and infrastructure categories.
According to the survey, Los Alamos County, which is well-known for its enormous, magnificent mountain ranges, is the first place to hold the top spot more than twice since U.S. News began publishing the rankings in 2018.
However, the county’s score in the subcategory of housing was below average, as were those of the four runner-up counties: Falls Church, Virginia; Douglas County, Colorado; Morgan County, Utah; and Carver County, Minnesota.
In the New Mexico county of Los Alamos, families and adults stroll along a snow-covered valley.
Los Alamos County Councilor Sara Scott, who wasn’t engaged in the analysis, previously told CNN that “a healthy environment is part of what undoubtedly contributes to (Los Alamos County) being a healthy community.” People have the chance and desire to be outside and enjoy our mountains, hikes, bicycling, horseback riding, and golfing.
Scott claimed that one reason Los Alamos County was voted No. 1 in 2020 was because of a charitable populace that takes health and safety seriously.
This has included contributions relevant to the pandemic, volunteer mask-making, current information sharing on safety procedures between health officials and citizens, and public acceptance of the county’s multi-layered public health response. According to Scott, census responses have also assisted county officials in determining needs and priorities.
In the fall of 2016, a rainbow covered pastures in Los Alamos County, New Mexico.
Florence County, Wisconsin, Iron County, Michigan, Forest County, Wisconsin, Summit County, Colorado, and Broadwater County, Montana took the top five spots in the environmental rating. This category takes into account things like air quality, the safety of the water you drink, how much of the land is covered in trees, and how many people live within a half mile of a park.
The rankings were determined by U.S. News and the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems based on how nearly 3,000 US communities fared on 89 health and health-related metrics divided into 10 categories: population health, housing, public safety, and infrastructure. The values for each community were scaled in relation to the average for each metric by the researchers.
Public health history has an impact on today’s communities
Some tools examined the Covid-19 case, mortality, and immunization rates by counties. The survey found lower rates of postsecondary education, a lower life expectancy, and smaller proportions of persons who had recently engaged in physical exercise during their free time in communities with higher cumulative deaths from Covid-19 (per 100,000 residents).
Covid-19 immunization and booster rates appeared to be greater in areas where the percentage of residents with at least an associate’s degree was higher. The death rate from COVID-19 was lower in areas where immunization rates were higher.
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In 2021, Alex Matthews, then the data editor at U.S. News & World Report, told CNN that he had learned from speaking with healthcare and public health experts that “you start building the type of public health infrastructure and trust in public health, not at the time of the pandemic, but 10 years earlier.”
In 2021, many counties that had “very high immunization rates also scored well on our food nutrition category. And those two things don’t seem related (at first),” Matthews said, adding that in some communities, a Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program connects local producers with families who need inexpensive access to fruit.
“In the end, you think to yourself, “Well, of course,” when the public health authorities later approach you and say, “Hey, we need you to wear masks” or “Hey, we need you to get this injection.” These people care about my health; they have been doing so daily. Therefore, I’m going to trust them and listen to them.”
The best neighborhood for mental health
Fairfax County in Virginia, Santa Clara County in California, San Mateo County in California, and Honolulu County in Hawaii were the top four communities in the mental health category.
According to Chris Wolf, principal data analyst at U.S. News, “Communities in the DMV (Washington DC/Maryland/Virginia) area geographically have strong ratings in this aspect of our assessment, with Fairfax County leading the way at No. 1.”
According to Susan L. Polan, associate executive director of public affairs and advocacy at the American Public Health Association, community measures of “physical health and well-being can also impact mental health because they can limit or support the way individuals are able to move through their day and interact with their community.” Polan didn’t take part in the study. In the study, lower mental health scores were linked to reduced life expectancy, increased rates of poverty, smoking, and teen pregnancies.
According to the report, U.S. News creates the rankings to inform community health professionals of the finest laws and procedures for leading fruitful, healthy lives.
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People should consider whether the neighborhood “is a cohesive community with easy access to healthy food, safe places to play and walk, good schools, diverse residents and leaderships, affordable housing, public transportation, and a full range of other services,” according to Polan, when looking at potential homes. She continued, “Economically sound, locally engaged enterprises and local governments interested in investing in communities are also good markers of thriving residential neighborhoods.”
The University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems, a research center for community health, and CVS Health both provided funding for the Healthiest Communities initiative. Researchers based the rankings on data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Census Bureau and Environmental Protection Agency.