(CNN) – With its vast mountain ranges, diverse wildlife, and clean air, Los Alamos County, New Mexico has been ranked as the healthiest community of 2020.
The sun sets over Los Alamos County during the fall of 2018.
Los Alamos County also ranked among the best for low racial segregation (# 3) and low prevention hospital admissions (# 21).
“A healthy environment is part of what definitely contributes to (Los Alamos County) being a healthy community,” said Sara Scott, Los Alamos County Council Chair, who was not involved in the report. “People have the opportunity and interest to go out, take advantage of our mountains, trails, biking, horseback riding (and) golf.”
Two hikers stand in a mountain valley in Los Alamos County, New Mexico.
Douglas County, Colorado is second, followed by Falls Church, Virginia, Broomfield County, Colorado, and Routt County, Colorado.
Columbia County, New York, ranked last in the top 500 healthiest communities.
“Healthier community rankings are a snapshot of how healthy a community is over a given period of time,” said Deidre McPhillips, senior data editor at US News & World Report. “This year it was incredibly important to include the coronavirus in that analysis.”
Although the data used to determine the rankings was obtained prior to the pandemic, the new tools used in this year’s report provided Covid-19 community data and highlighted the disproportionate impact of the virus on Black and Hispanic communities.
Healthier community rankings and analyzes are based on ratings of nearly 3,000 communities nationwide for 84 health and health related measurements across 10 categories, including community vitality, equity, economy, education, environment, food and nutrition , population health, housing, infrastructure and public safety.
By evaluating which communities offer their citizens the opportunity to live healthy and productive lives, the project serves to educate residents and government officials on best policies and practices for positive health outcomes.
The project is the result of a collaboration with the Aetna Foundation, a health philanthropic organization, and a partnership with the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems, a community health research institute. The rankings are based on measurements obtained from sources including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington in Seattle.
A health and health oriented community to tackle a pandemic
A health-conscious and generous community is part of what makes Los Alamos County so healthy, Scott said. “We have certainly seen this in terms of people who are able to join in philanthropic endeavors,” he added. “In the case of the pandemic, we’ve seen donations arrive to help people with utility support (and) people who come together to create masks for workers or community members who don’t have any.”
Physical activity on the trails and mountains of Los Alamos County is a favorite with residents.
This common attitude contributed to the pandemic response on four fronts in the county: county operations, engagement and coordination, identification of new needs and communication, Scott said. In Los Alamos County, the rate of 124 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents was one of the 100 lowest rates in the country, according to the report.
“We are all on the same page about what our concerns are, what our tools are (and) what our needs are,” like childcare and mortgage payments, Scott said. Communication with state officials and citizens was also imperative, in terms of where people could get tested, find support for their businesses, or catch up on public health order updates.
“The community has been in favor of taking these measures seriously,” Scott said. “People understand why measures matter, how they affect our safety and our ability to open businesses … and schools.”
The Covid-19 case rate of these communities was most strongly associated with scores in the Community Vitality category, particularly with regards to census response. What drives community vitality, disease and pandemics is if people are informed, McPhillips said.
In Los Alamos County, Scott said, census responses “really help us do a good job of identifying where our needs are and what priorities are to continue to maintain this amazing place to live, work and recreate. “.
Pandemic disparities between races
The healthiest 500 communities had a Covid-19 case rate that was 40 percent lower than other U.S. counties as of Aug.24, the report said.
Counties with above-average populations of black (at least 13%) and Hispanic (18% or more) residents have had mean cases of Covid-19 and death rates at least 1.2 times the national average. Counties that were more than 50 percent black had mean case and death rates that were roughly double the national average.
The counties of the majority of American Indians also had a higher case rate than the national average.
“Communities of color have long been underserved, understaffed and under fire,” said Susan L. Polan, associate executive director of public affairs and defense of the American Public Health Association, who was not involved in the study.
“Systemic racism in community institutions such as health care, education, police and others have led to the inequalities we see in COVID-19 and many other preventable deaths,” Polan added via email.
The best communities for low disease rates
The prevalence of diabetes was 38 percent higher in communities where more than a quarter of residents said they did not engage in physical activity in their spare time, the report said.
The main community for low obesity was Teton County, Wyoming, while Pitkin County, Colorado was the best community for low diabetes.
Honolulu County, Hawaii ranked # 1 in the mental health category, which rated deaths from suicide, alcohol or drugs, the rate of depression among Medicare beneficiaries, and the number of days of mental ill health at month, McPhillips said.
Community measures of “physical health and well-being can also impact mental health because they can limit or support how individuals are able to move around their day and interact with their community,” Polan said.
And the factors most associated with “life expectancy are the smoking rate, self-health assessment, adolescent birth rate, number of days of mental ill health, and poverty rate,” he said. McPhillips.
When choosing where to live, people should consider whether the residence “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 transport and a range complete with other services, ”Polan said. Local governments interested in investing in entire communities and economically sound, locally involved businesses are also beneficial, he added.