Today, U.S. News and World Report, the global authority in rankings and civic journalism, in collaboration with the Aetna Foundation, the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna, announced that the City of Falls Church, Virgnia, is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in its inaugural Healthiest Communities rankings.
As reported today, the new report evaluated nearly 3,000 communities nationwide across 10 categories, from education and population health to infrastructure and economy. In addition to assessing which communities offer their citizens the greatest opportunity to live a productive, healthy life, the rankings offer insight into the best approaches for improving public health that can be shared and implemented across the country.
“For nearly 30 years, U.S. News has evaluated hospitals, colleges and other sectors for the benefit of consumers, recognizing the importance of access to trusted, in-depth information,” said Eric Gertler, chairman of U.S. News. “Healthiest communities is an extension of that effort, giving citizens, community leaders and policy-makers the tools to assess health in their communities and develop a blueprint for positive change.”
According to today’s announcement, in addition to an overall ranking of the top 500 communities, four peer groupings were developed based on counties’ urban-rural status as tied to population density and the robustness of their economies. The peer groups assured fair comparisons between communities and are categorized by: urban high performing, urban up-and-coming, rural high-performing and rural up-and-coming. An Honor Roll was also developed to highlight 36 top-performing communities in each peer group from the nine US Census regions.
“Research has shown that in the United States, a ZIP code is a greater predictor of your life expectancy than your genetic code. In other words, where you live has a significant impact on your overall health,” said Mark T. Bertolini, chairman of the Aetna Foundation and chairman and CEO of Aetna.
“Our work with U.S. News will provide communities with data that can help them better understand opportunities for improvement, as well as inspire ideas for change by showcasing the best practices of communities across the country.”
Mayor David Tarter was quoted in the U.S. News article saying about Falls Church “‘It’s a small place that a lot of people don’t know about really, but it’s got a great quality of life, and it’s just a little bit like Mayberry,” he said. ‘It’s a place that still has that feel, maybe from a bygone day, where people walk and they talk to each other, they know each other, they know each other’s kids and families, they look out for each other. Yet they have the nation’s capital just a short train ride away.”
Councilwoman Marybeth Connelly was also interviewed and said “For many years the school system was the primary draw, but as the city has become more walkable, more friendly, a better place to live, there’s other draws, too, now. People come here who don’t have kids, who just want to live in a community where they can walk and go out to dinner. We really are actively trying to get people like that to come here.”
The article cited city partnerships with local businesses, community groups and the school system to promote wellness initiatives and the schools’ focus on mental health, mindfulness, healthy eating and physical fitness including George Mason High School’s annual “Stress Less Week” with therapy dogs and yoga classes.
Falls Church’s affluence was also mentioned with U.S. News stating around a quarter of City households earn $200,000 or more annually, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, and has a poverty rate of around 3 percent.
Key Findings in the 2018 Healthiest Communities rankings, according to today’s announcement, are these:
1. The top five Healthiest Communities all score above the national average in at least nine of the 10 categories evaluated. Falls Church is No. 1, ranking in the top three communities nationally for education, economy and public safety. Douglas County and Broomfield County, Colorado, follow at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Los Alamos County, New Mexico, places fourth, while Dukes County, Massachusetts, rounds out the top five. Virginia (northern Virginia, in particular) and Colorado communities dominate the top 10. Among the top 10: the City of Falls Church (1), Fairfax city (6), and Loudoun County (10), Virginia; Douglas County (2), Broomfield County (3), Routt County (8) and Ouray County(9), Colorado.
Together, communities in the two states boast an average of 62 primary care doctors for every 100 people and an average life expectancy that is more than a year longer than the national average.
2. Peer Groups: The top 100 communities in each peer group range from Keweenaw County, Michigan – a county with a total population of just over 2,000 – to Middlesex County, Massachusetts, which is home to more than 1.5 million people. Rural counties stand out in the community vitality category that includes measures such as voter participation and home ownership rates, while up-and-coming economies perform strongly in the food and nutrition category, which includes access to large supermarkets and fewer cases of obesity and diabetes.
Across all four peer groups, top counties rank well in the population health category, which looks at access to care, mental health, health behaviors such as preventative care visits and tobacco use, prevalence of health conditions such as cancer and heart disease among Medicare beneficiaries, and health outcomes including life expectancy and teen birth rates.
3. Honor Roll: When organized by region, a number of communities that may not be at the top on a national stage stand out among their regional peers. Communities that are highlighted on the 2018 Healthiest Communities Honor Roll that did not rank in the top 500 include Lexington city, Virginia; Orleans County, Vermont; and Pickett County, Tennessee.
The Aetna Foundation – which has sought to improve community health for more than 40 years – currently supports hundreds of programs across the country that address the social determinants of health. Using data from the Healthiest Communities rankings, the Foundation will continue to make targeted investments in locally-based programs and cross-sector partnerships that will accelerate progress towards building healthy communities across the country.
To compile the rankings, U.S. News worked with the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES), a research institution skilled in community health assessment, and consulted with members of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics.
The rankings are based on 80 metrics drawn from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Healthiest Communities rankings are the centerpiece of a new platform featuring in-depth reporting and analysis on community and public health issues, as well as comprehensive data covering the full spectrum of factors that influence population health. Healthiest Communities is part of U.S. News’ expanding News channel and civic journalism portfolio, which includes the Best States and Best Countries platforms.