WASHINGTON — The suburban Maryland and Virginia counties that ring D.C. remain not only among the wealthiest counties in the nation but also among the healthiest, according to new rankings from a public health advocacy organization.
Loudoun, Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia, and Montgomery and Howard counties in Maryland are ranked as the healthiest in their respective states, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which measures counties across a range of health-related factors.
“One of the things that the county health rankings has done for almost the last 10 years is really take a look at and show people that where we live matters to our health,” Michelle Larkin, the foundation’s associate chief of staff, told WTOP. “So we look at things like education, jobs, children living in poverty as well as access to health care providers, obesity rates and those types of things.”
In Loudoun County, which is also Virginia’s wealthiest county, just 12 percent of residents are listed as being in poor or fair health, according to the group’s statistics. That ranks among the best showings in the U.S. and well below the statewide average of 16 percent.
About 22 percent of residents are obese, compared to 28 percent nationwide. About 94 percent of county residents have access to exercise opportunities — defined as living near parks or recreation centers.
The percentage of children living in poverty in Loudoun County is just 4 percent overall, compared to more than three times that rate statewide — 14 percent. Nationwide, 20 percent of children are living in poverty.
Still, there are stark racial disparities in the county.
The percentage of black and Hispanic children living in poverty are 8 and 9 percent, respectively — nearly three times the percentage of white children living in poverty.
In Montgomery County — Maryland’s healthiest county — just 10 percent of county residents are listed as being in poor or fair health, compared to 14 percent across Maryland.
About 21 percent of residents are obese, compared to 29 percent statewide. Meanwhile, 100 percent of residents live near parks or recreational facilities.
In Maryland’s wealthiest county, about 9 percent of children live in poverty. That’s well below the statewide average of 13 percent — but black children in the county are almost twice as likely to live in poverty, according to the stats. About 15 percent of Hispanic children live in poverty in the county.
This year’s rankings include a particular focus on childhood poverty.
“The reason that we pay close attention to that, is that poverty really limits the opportunities and increases the chance of poor health, both for our children but also as those children come into young adulthood,” Larkin said.
A nationwide trouble spot is the increasing number of babies born in the U.S. with low birthweight. Nationwide, 8.2 percent of babies born in 2016 were underweight — a 2 percent increase from 2016, the foundation said. Black babies are twice as likely to be born with a low birthweight, the group said, and are about twice as likely to die before their first birthday.