A new ranking of the healthiest U.S. communities puts eight Georgia counties in the top 500, with the highest being Forsyth County, at No. 82.
U.S. News & World Report, in collaboration with the Aetna Foundation, released the list Monday, evaluating communities by factors including population health, education, economy, and food and nutrition.
The city of Falls Church, Virginia, was rated at the healthiest community, and several other counties and cities in Virginia made the top 100. Virginia is generally listed as a mid-Atlantic state, though it has historical ties to the South.
Aside from Forsyth County, just two Southern communities made the first 100 — Williamson County, Tennessee, at 23rd, and Collin County, Texas, at 68th.
The project evaluated nearly 3,000 counties/communities across 10 categories that drive health outcomes.
Forsyth County was also ranked as Georgia’s healthiest county by County Health Rankings. It’s an affluent suburban county northeast of Atlanta.
The other Georgia counties making the list of 500 healthiest communities are Fayette, at No. 120; Oconee, at 146; Columbia, at 181; Cherokee, at 293; Cobb, at 345; Paulding at 424; and Union County, at 484.
All but Union are suburban counties. Union, in far North Georgia, has a population of just over 20,000 and was traditionally remote until the arrival in recent years of some affluent newcomers attracted by its mountain scenery. Its score was 66.6 out of possible 100, while the state average was 41.8
U.S. News collaborated with the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems to collect and analyze data. The factors used in evaluating community health were identified by the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics.
Colin Smith, a social epidemiologist and policy analyst at the Georgia State School of Public Health, said the rankings’ weighting of factors related to health appeared to be appropriate.
He noted that the ranked Georgia counties appeared to be wealthier — and whiter — than others that didn’t make the list.
“Those counties that had the least racial difference had the better health outcomes,” Smith said. Disentangling race and economics in the South “is almost impossible,” he added.
Historically, some Georgia counties have experienced major changes in the ethnicity of their residents in recent years, while others have seen little such change.
Communities and states that put more emphasis and money into social services, such as education and infrastructure, do better in such rankings, Smith added.
Lifting the Southeast rankings will take reducing relative income inequality, he said.