WASHINGTON – Virginia’s Arlington County and Maryland’s Montgomery County top the annual list of the area’s healthiest counties in a new report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute.
The rankings looked at 30 factors, including poverty, education, transportation, housing, violent crimes, jobs, access to healthy foods and access to medical care.
“[These are] things that people don’t always associate with health, but things that we know are important predictors for how well and how long we’re going to live,” says Abbey Cofsky, a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In Maryland, Howard County ranked second healthiest, followed by Frederick, Carroll and St. Mary’s. In Virginia, Albemarle is listed as the second healthiest county, followed by Fairfax, Loudoun and York.
“What we’re seeing in these counties, and in healthy counties across the nation, is that there are low rates of smoking and low rates of adult obesity,” Cofsky says. “And that’s not a surprise because we see environments where folks have access to healthy food, they have access to safe places to play.” High graduation rates and low rates of unemployment also influence the health of these counties.
However, even within the high-ranking areas, Cofsky says there are still plenty of opportunities for improvement.
“Even those top-ranked counties are going to find places where they need to be paying attention — trends that might be going in the wrong direction or places where there’s really an opportunity to expand … health to everyone in the county.”
Nationally, D.C. saw the greatest decrease in premature deaths, a factor the report says “is the single most important health outcome that we measure and is given the highest weight in our calculations.”
The report found that rates of violent crimes are decreasing throughout the nation, but the rate of children living in poverty is increasing.
“We know that is a big barrier to better health, because it means we are not giving our children the best opportunity for access to healthy food, access to the types of physical environments that allow them to thrive, they type of education that they’ll need to get good jobs,” Cofsky says.
Counties ranked low in the report have more teen births, more smokers and more alcohol-related traffic deaths. In Maryland, Baltimore County is ranked the least healthy; Highland County is listed as Virginia’s least health county.
You can find the full report on countyhealthrankings.org.
Maryland’s top 20 healthiest counties:
- St. Mary’s
- Queen Anne’s
- Anne Arundel
- Prince George’s
Virginia’s top 20 healthiest counties:
- Alexandria City
- James City
- Manassas Park City
- Falls Church City
- Prince William
- Poquoson City
- Fairfax City
- Harrisonburg City