What goes into ranking the healthiest communities?

by Pamela Dow, MS, PHR, SHRM-CP, Thrive Healthcare Fellow

U.S. News provides an annual Healthiest Communities Index and Ranking report. The framework for this research comes from the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics as part of its Measurement Framework for Community Health and Wellbeing. More information on the methodology can be found here. This report looks at nearly 3,000 U.S. counties and provides a composite score and ranking using 84 metrics over 10 categories. Categories and their respective weights are: Population Health (14.2%), Equity (12.23%), Education (12.15%), Economy (11.1%), Housing (9.5%), Food & Nutrition (8.8%), Environment (8.6%), Public Safety (8.5%), Community Vitality (7.5%) and Infrastructure (7.5%).  According to this report, Orange County, Florida has an overall score of 52 (Florida (44); U.S. Average (48). Seminole County, however, with an overall score of 64 ranks #466 of the Top 500.

Let’s compare Orange County to #1 ranked county Los Alamos County, New Mexico using the U.S. News Data Explorer. Both Orange County and Los Alamos County are described as Peer Group “Urban, High-Performing”. When comparing the overall Population Health score, Orange County has a 65 and Los Alamos County has a 93. While primary care doctor availability is better in Orange County, the population with no health insurance is nearly 6-times higher in Orange County than Los Alamos County, at 14.8% and 2.5% respectively. Additionally, Orange County has a higher percentage of adults with no leisure time for physical activity (26.3%) and a higher rate of smoking (15.8%) when compared to Los Alamos, who is 11.6% and 9.6% respectively. Because of these population health statistics, life expectancy is Orange County is three years less than Los Alamos County, at 80.3 years and 83.4 years, respectively.

When looking at the Food & Nutrition category, the statistics are interesting. Orange County has an overall Food & Nutrition score of 44, while Los Alamos has a score of 67. Interestingly, Orange County’s Food Availability Score is 37, compared to the Los Alamos score of 25. This is because nearly three times as many people in Los Alamos do not have access to a large grocery store compared to Orange County (57.35 vs. 21.7%). However, the nutrition score of Los Alamos is 93, while Orange County’s is 51. Further, diabetes and obesity prevalence are significantly lower in Los Alamos County, at 6.4% and 24% respectively, compared to Orange County at 32.4% and 11.2% respectively.

There is only one metric which Orange County outperforms Los Alamos: Economy. However, the scores are very close, at 75 and 74. The average weekly wage in Los Alamos County is significantly higher than Orange County, at $1,691 and $990 respectively, though labor force participation and unemployment are nearly the same. Additionally, the median household income in Orange County is $58,254, while Los Alamos’ median income is double more than double, at $121,324. Where Orange County shines in this category, however, is Opportunity; Orange County receives an 89 while Los Alamos receives as 28. The most staggering metric is this category is “Jobs Within a 45-minute Commute”. Orange County totals 119,212, compared to Los Alamos at 6,015.

Other notable health-related statistics are as follows:

  • Toxic Release Index Score: Orange County (30,336.24) and Los Alamos (7.83)
  • Property Crime Rate: OC (3,751/100k) and LA (921.7/100k)
  • Vehicle Crash Fatality: OC (15.7/100k) and LA (1.9/100k)
  • Population with 0.5mi of a Park: OC (37.0%) and LA (75.0%)
  • Unsafe Drinking Water: OC (16.0%) and LA (0.0%)
  • Work Hours Needed to Pay for Affordable Housing: OC (44.1) and LA (26.3)

While there are several statistics that could be compared on the Data Explorer, these statistics are potentially something that the community can do something about. For example, what can we do as a community to reduce toxic release? Additionally, how can we address work hours needed for affordable housing? Hopefully each of these statistics presented here provide you food for thought when supporting local non-profits, charities, and when civically participating in your own community.