In an announcement last week, the Virginia Department of Health proclaimed the City of Falls Church as “the healthiest locality in Virginia.” It cited a comprehensive new university report that ranks localities in the state by “health outcomes” as well as “underlying factors that influence health.”
This year’s report, published by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, is focused on the “importance of economic security for all communities, especially as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic,” it states. “As a result, six new measures were introduced, including a “typical” childcare cost burden across U.S. counties, being “about 25 percent of household income.
Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields cited the report in comments to the Falls Church City Council last week.
Other new measures in the report include Covid-19 deaths in 2020, where Virginia’s rate of 56 deaths per 100,000 people is lower than the national rate of 85 per 100,000. Also added is the “average number of mentally unhealthy days” people reported in the last 30 days, a number that in Virginia ranged from 3.3 to 5.8 days.
Falls Church ranked best in the state in both health factors and outcomes, and Arlington County ranked second in both categories. Petersburg city ranked last in the study published in the university’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps (CHR&R).
Areas of strength cited include low rates of physical inactivity, high access to exercise opportunities, a high number of health care providers in multiple fields of care, high education levels and a low amount of teen births. Areas in need of improvement include adult obesity, excessive drinking and air pollution.
“The Rankings help us understand what influences how long and how well we live. They provide measures of the current overall health (health outcomes) of each county in all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” the CHR&R report stated. “Rankings data include a variety of measures, such as high school graduation rates, access to nutritious foods and the percent of children living in poverty, all of which impact the future health of communities (health factors).”
“We are proud to have earned the ranking as the healthiest locality in Virginia,” said Vice Mayor Letty Hardi. “We strive to be a walkable city with excellent recreational facilities, a hugely popular Farmers Market, and world class schools. This ranking affirms the high quality of life in our community, and we are happy to see all these efforts bear fruit.”
Falls Church City received a 100 percent in the area of access to exercise opportunities, compared to a state average of only 78 percent. This is defined as “percentage of population with adequate access to locations for physical activity.” The Little City is full of parks for outdoor exercise as well as gyms and exercise classes.
Along with health, the study also looks at factors such as education level, poverty and income. While the study does not make any direct links between the two, the report stressed that places with higher education levels have lower rates of poverty, higher median household incomes and lower rates of uninsured people.
The median household income in the City is $160,300 compared to the state average of $79,200 — a difference of $81,100 with an error margin of $142,500 to $178,100. The high school graduation rate in Falls Church is listed as 98 percent— 10 percent higher than the average in Virginia. Unemployment is half of the average in the state and only four percent of people in the City are uninsured.
According to information published by CHR&R, “economic security enables families to cover basic needs such as housing, education, childcare, food and medical care. Each of these needs has demonstrated ties to health. However, economic security is not equally accessible to all people. When a single household expense consumes the majority of a paycheck, it becomes difficult to meet competing needs and can force households into tough decisions like choosing between quality childcare, paying rent and purchasing nutritious food. Individuals, households and communities deserve the opportunity to meet basic needs with dignity. Advancing a just recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the layered impacts of racism and economic exclusion requires intentional action to ensure all people and places have what they need to thrive.”