U.S. News & World Report, Aetna Foundation release 2019 healthiest communities rankings

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U.S. News & World Report, Aetna Foundation release 2019 healthiest communities rankings

By Sandra Levy - 03/26/2019
Douglas County, Colo. is the healthiest community in America, according to the 2019 Healthiest Communities rankings by U.S. News & World Report, released Tuesday in collaboration with the Aetna Foundation.

The Healthiest Communities rankings are part of a $100 million commitment by CVS Health and its affiliates to making community health and wellness central to the company’s charge for a better world. The new Building Healthier Communities initiative, which will be funded over five years by CVS Health and the CVS Health and Aetna foundations, builds upon the outstanding tradition of community investment by CVS Health and Aetna and advances CVS Health’s purpose of helping people on their path to better health.

The second annual report and accompanying analysis are based on an evaluation of nearly 3,000 communities nationwide across 81 health-related metrics in 10 categories, from education and population health to infrastructure and environment.

In addition to assessing which communities offer their citizens the greatest opportunity to live a productive, healthy life, the project serves as a tool to inform residents, health care leaders and elected officials about policies and best practices that help drive better health outcomes.

The 2019 Healthiest Communities Top 10
• Douglas County, Colo.
• Los Alamos County, N.M.
• Falls Church city, Va.
• Loudoun County, Va.
• Broomfield County, Colo.
• Teton County, Wyo.
• Hamilton County, Ind.
• Carver County, Minn.
• Delaware County, Ohio
• Howard County, Md.

For 2019, the top five healthiest communities score above the national average in all 10 categories. Following Douglas County, Colo., at No. 1, Los Alamos County, N.M., rose to No. 2, moving Falls Church City, Va., to No. 3, down from No. 1 in 2018. Loudoun County, Va. jumped up a spot to No. 4, with Broomfield County, Colo. rounding out the top five.

“Through the Healthiest Communities initiative, U.S. News expands on three decades of expertise in measuring health care quality to assess how social determinants affect community health,” U.S. News & World Report executive chairman Eric Gertler said. “Our second-year endeavor with the Aetna Foundation combines high-quality data with the power of journalism to engage communities about where they can improve and how they can learn from each other.”

“Through our support of organizations across the country, we know that the most effective and innovative solutions to improve health are consistently developed by addressing the needs of each specific community,” CVS Health president and CEO Larry Merlo said. “The Healthiest Communities rankings continue to provide the insights that are essential to identify key issues and support community organizations, leaders and residents who are tackling the unique social determinants of health that impact their respective neighborhoods.”

In a U.S. News & World Report op-ed Tuesday, CVS Health executive vice president and Aetna business unit president Karen Lynch highlighted some of the programs that the rankings bring to light the impact that engaging local communities can have. She focused on two programs in North Carolina.

Lynch said that Mecklenburg County, N.C. is the most heavily populated county in the state and includes one of its most prominent cities, Charlotte. "Here, the African-American population is disproportionately impacted by cardiovascular disease compared to their white counterparts," she writes. "To combat this, Village HeartBEAT — one of the grand prizewinners of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge — activated more than 60 local faith-based organizations to help over 20,000 local residents access health resources to reduce cardiovascular risk. As a result, VHB reduced the smoking rate in the community from 17.4% to 13.9% and obesity rates from 70% to 64.7%."

Lynch added that in rural communities in North Carolina, friends and neighbors have become the frontline defense against opioid overdose deaths. "To address this issue, we are helping the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition give individuals the tools they need to recognize and respond to an overdose in order to save more lives. The results have been impressive. In 2018, coalition outreach workers distributed 6,408 naloxone kits to high-risk opioid users in five targeted rural counties, with 554 overdose reversal reports," she said.

Other highlights from the 2019 Healthiest Communities rankings:

  • For 2019, Douglas County, Colo. is the No. 1 healthiest community in America. The Denver suburb is among the top 10 healthiest communities in the country in at least four of the 81 measures, including physical activity, educational attainment and median household income;

  • Seven communities in Colorado rank among the top 20: Douglas County (1), Broomfield County (5), Chaffee County (11), Routt County (14), San Miguel County (17), Pitkin County (19) and Boulder County (20). In those seven counties, nearly all adults exercise and only about a quarter missed their annual wellness checkup. Across all of its counties, Colorado has the highest average score in the country in the Environment category, which includes measures of natural amenities and air and water quality;

  • Iowa has the strongest presence in the Healthiest Communities rankings overall, with 62 counties landing among the top 500. Average community scores put Iowa among the top 10 states in four of the 10 broad categories assessed, including Population Health and Housing. Iowa’s top-performing community, No. 26 Bremer County, takes top scores in walkability and low toxic releases;

  • There are 81 counties that are new to this year’s top 500 communities, including Montour County, Pa., which improved in the Population Health category. Bath County, Va., saw significant progress in Education and Sweetwater County, Wyo. rose in Environment;

  • Of the 81 metrics included in the Healthiest Communities analysis, diabetes prevalence and smoking rate have the strongest correlation to life expectancy. According to Healthiest Communities calculations, Hawaii counties perform the best in the country in life expectancy, with an average of 81.15 years;

  • At 8.7%, the average smoking rate across Utah counties is the lowest in the country. The rate is about half the national average and about 3 percentage points lower than in California, the state with the second-lowest rate;

  • Poor self-reported mental health has about the same negative link to life expectancy as diabetes, smoking and physical inactivity. The same metric also is linked to higher rates of poverty at the community level;

  • Communities in Nebraska take 16 of the top 100 spots in the Mental Health subcategory, including Cherry County and Morrill County, which both score among the top 10 in the subcategory. The state has averaged 26 deaths due to suicide, alcohol-related disease and drug overdoses per 100,000 population; only New York state has averaged fewer “deaths of despair,” with 25 per 100,000 population.

To view the full rankings and search county profiles, please visit: https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities.