Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties rank at top for healthy population in Va.

Residents of Northern Virginia, when comparing themselves with residents in the rest of the state, take pride in the quality of their schools, their economic strength, their big-city sophistication — and now, in their healthy lifestyles.

An annual report from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which ranks nearly every county or city in the United States, found the state’s healthiest population in Fairfax County, followed by Arlington and Loudoun counties. Details on each community and rankings are at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

The rankings, in their third year, are based on publicly available data that show premature death rates, adults in poor physical or mental health and the number of low-birth-weight babies. The researchers also looked at a variety of measures contributing to a poor health picture overall, such as the rate of people dying before age 75, high school graduation rates, access to health care and healthy foods, air pollution levels, income and rates of smoking, obesity and teen births.

When those factors are considered, Loudoun residents leapfrog to the top of Virginia’s ranks, Fairfax falls to fifth place, and Arlington slides to third. But given the 135 Virginia communities measured, those are all top spots.

“Arlington County works hard to promote a healthy way of living, and to provide residents with options that make it easier to stay healthy and fit,” Arlington County Board Chairman Mary Hynes said in a statement. Transit-oriented development encourages commuters and shoppers to be more physically active, the construction of bike paths and sidewalks makes it easier to stay in shape, and the county’s wide-ranging recreational activities also prompt non-sedentary activities, she said. “Obviously, Arlingtonians are putting these amenities and programs to good use.”

The report does not compare counties or municipalities nationally because state health statistics and unique situations vary too much to be compared, a spokeswoman said. For example, excessive drinking rates are highest in the Northern states; rates of teen births, sexually transmitted infections and children in poverty are highest across the Southern states; and motor vehicle crash deaths are lowest in the Northeastern and Upper Midwest states.

This year, the report also includes an “action center,” where community members, business leaders, government officials and health officials can plot a strategy for improvement. The researchers also created, with Virginia Commonwealth University, a new County Health Calculator, http://countyhealthcalculator.org/, an interactive application that shows people how education and income influence rates of diabetes and spending on diabetes care county-by-county.

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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