What Factors Contribute to a Healthy County?


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Earlier this year, U.S. News & World Report and the Aetna Foundation released the fourth annual 500 Healthiest Communities in the U.S. rankings, which analyzed 3,000 U.S. counties across ten categories. Among them were key social drivers of health, including education, housing, and food and nutrition.

For the second year in a row, Los Alamos County, New Mexico is ranked number one, performing best in the population, housing, and infrastructure categories. In Los Alamos, obesity and diabetes rates are low, residents have a median household income of more than $121,000, 74.7 percent of residents have an advanced degree (44.9 percent higher than the national median), and 97.5 percent of residents have health insurance. 

Analyzing social drivers 

Placer County, CA, an urban area outside of Sacramento, is ranked number 35 on the overall healthiest communities list. Placer County has more affordable housing than other counties in California, which contributes to its high ranking. Santa Cruz County, however, is an urban community in California, just four hours from Placer County, which is ranked number 492 on the list. While many of Santa Cruz’s categories were on par with Placer, the considerable disparity in rankings could be due, in part, to Santa Cruz’s unaffordable housing market. Residents of both counties earn a median average between $82,234 and 89,691, yet the median home price in Santa Cruz County is $​​1,265,000, whereas the median sale price for homes in Placer County is about half that at $660,000. 

No matter how similar they may seem, no two counties are the same. No two cities or neighborhoods are the same, either.

In Kansas, Marion County is ranked number 441 on the list and is home to Hillsboro, which is less than an hour outside of Wichita. While some may assume that being close to a larger city means having better access to education and healthcare, that’s not the case for residents of Marion County. Norton County, Kansas, a rural community far from a metropolitan area, for instance, outranked Marion and came in at number 367 on the list. 

Why? Consider the difference in educational opportunities. Norton has five schools to serve its 5,361 residents, while Marion County also has five public schools but almost double the residents at 11,884. Norton County also spends $21,495 per person on educational expenditures, whereas Marion County only spends $11,567 per person. This, alone, will impact the quality of education these residents receive. 

The value of social services

Quality of life differs from community to community, but one thing we know for certain is that social needs are a critical factor in health outcomes. Affordable housing, accessible food, and educational opportunities make a life-changing difference. No matter if you live in an urban or rural area, your quality of life is impacted by your zip code. And until needs are addressed and services are made available, disparities will continue to exist. 

To improve community health, we must invest more time and money into the community itself, focusing on the specific needs of residents. Allocating funding to transportation in a community where 99% of households have a car won’t be as beneficial as providing it to a community where many don't and public transportation is difficult to access. 

At Healthify, our mission is to build a world where no one's health is hindered by their needs and we're fundamentally rethinking how healthcare organizations and communities work together to help people and communities thrive. We are dedicated to building personalized solutions to improve population health outcomes. 

Learn how Healthify builds networks of community-based organizations that address SDoH and contact us today

Topics: social determinants of health public health population health sdoh health equity

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