Some of America’s least-healthy communities are also those that index greater for vaccine hesitancy and other risks for well-being, found in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 Healthiest Communities Rankings.

U.S. News collaborated with the Aetna Foundation, CVS Health’s philanthropic arm, in this fourth annual list of the top geographies for well-being in the U.S.

Six of the top ten healthiest towns in America are located in the state of Colorado. But #1 belongs to Los Alamos County, New Mexico, which also ranked first in ___.

Beyond Colorado and New Mexico, we find that Virginia fared well for health in 2020, with Falls Church, Virginia, in third position, and Loudon County in sixth place.

Rounding out the top ten is Carver County, Minnesota, in seventh position.

The methodology for this study examines 84 health and health-related metrics that fall into ten categories; these are,

  • Community vitality
  • Economy
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Equity
  • Food and nutrition
  • Housing
  • Infrastructure
  • Population health, and
  • Public safety.

These factors are most heavily weighted toward population health (about 14% of the total index score), equity (12%), education (12%). and the economy (11%), together making up about one-half of each community’s healthy total. Data come from the CDC, CMS, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S> Environmental Protection Agency among other trusted sources.

In addition to the rankings for overall healthiest communities, the study also identified the top areas for health outcomes (San Juan Co., Washington, topping that list), top communities for access to health care (led by Olmstead County, Minnesota), and the top 5 areas for mental health, topped by Honolulu, Hawaii.

This year’s report also, rightly, examines the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on county wellness across the U.S. — in particular, impacts on mental health, access to care, and health equity and disparities the latter of which have been a research focus from the initiation of this research.

I participated with the Aetna Foundation and team on examining the health equity aspects of this study in 2018, linked here.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  This last chart details some data points from the Los Alamos 2021 profile, which landed the community the top spot for healthiest place in the United States this year.

I pulled out three categories that in the COVID-19 pandemic have been key factors underpinning health citizens’ ability to make and bolster health and well-being.

Within the infrastructure metric, note that Los Alamos reaches 99.9% for households with internet access. Connectivity during #lockdown and #stayhome mandates was key for enabling people to work and attend school from home — to earn a living, to learn, to stay socially connected, to access virtual health care.

Population health looks at life expectancy, for Los Alamos a high of 83.5 years compared with the national median of just under 80 years of age. Fewer people in the area smoke, and Los Alamos also enjoys a high level of health-insured people: only 3% lack health insurance, compare with nationally 10.6% of people uninsured.

Finally, equity: Los Alamos tends to have one-third a level of racial segregation, and one-fourth of the nation’s premature death disparity score.

“Over the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated several issues that we knew existed within the health care system, including the interdependence between the health of our communities and our personal health,” Karen Lynch, President and CEO of CVS Health, is quoted in the press release for the Healthiest Communities launch.

As we re-imagine building life and lives back-better with the learnings of the pandemic, I’m coming to appreciate reimagining what a “smart city” is. Beyond the internet of everything, utilizing data for good, I think we should add a companion definition: a Smart City attends to the many factors that bolster citizens’ overall health, investing in the underlying social, financial, mental, and economic well-being of the community’s residents.

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