7 Things America’s Healthiest Communities Have in Common

Some communities — cities, states, etc. — are healthier than others. There are a lot of factors that determine the health and wellness of the population living within a given community, and quite often, cultural differences can reign supreme. For example, you may find it difficult to find fresh fruits or vegetables in certain communities, but fried food and calorie-rich junk food is available at every turn.

And that’s just one obstacle. Creating a population of healthy, happy individuals is incredibly difficult to do. That’s why we’ve been debating public health initiatives and trying to fix our healthcare system for — well, seemingly forever. There’s no magic bullet to fix society’s health and wellness problems. But there are some communities that are clearly doing something right.

Community health and wellness

Four women jogging, taking health and wellness seriously

Want to be healthier? These communities seem to know what to do. | iStock.com/LarsZahnerPhotography

Gallup-Healthways released its annual Well-Being Index, which studied and ranked the healthiest communities in the country. You can dig through the rankings for yourself to see where your city landed, and see what factors determined the rankings. But we’re going to focus on another part of the Index: Some of the commonalities that the top five communities all had in common.

As you read through, most of these factors are fairly obvious. They’re all more or less descriptors of healthy communities; and yet, in order for a community to be considered healthy, these factors need to be present. Gallup-Healthways specifically made note of these seven specific components that were noticeable among the top five.

1. Lower smoking rates

A pack of Camel cigarettes

The healthiest communities have lower rates of smoking. | Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

Smoking rates have been dropping, consistently, for some time now. Whereas smoking cigarettes was, at one time, incredibly common — even in offices, restaurants, bars, airports, etc. — it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a place to smoke. As everyone knows, smoking is awful for you in every sense. America’s healthiest communities, per the Gallup report, have smoking rates at around 15%. For the lowest scoring communities, it’s almost 21%.

2. More exercise

Gym goers exercising

Exercise is vital for a long and healthy life. | iStock.com/Satyrenko

More exercise leads to healthier communities; it’s as simple as that. America’s healthiest cities are filled with people who like to get outside and exercise. People bicycling or walking to work, gym membership rates, and numerous other factors play into how much exercise a population gets, and it can very much be a cultural aspect to certain states and cities. The healthiest communities, per Gallup’s report, have exercise rates 5.1% higher than those on the other end of the spectrum.

3. Lower rates of obesity

A woman steps on a scale

The healthiest communities have lower obesity rates. | Thinkstock

How much a population exercises is going to have an impact on obesity rates, so it makes sense that the country’s healthiest communities would also have lower rates of obesity. Obesity itself brings with it a ton of other health issues, and when a population is leaner, they’re less likely to see cascading health problems as a result. The percentage difference between the healthiest and unhealthiest communities in Gallup’s data is significant.

4. Higher levels of produce consumption

A leafy green salad, with strawberries

More produce could lead to a healthier life. | iStock.com

Also related to obesity is diet — and there’s a lot of evidence showing that plant-based diets tend to be healthier. That holds true among Gallup’s report, too. The healthiest communities have higher produce consumption than their counterparts. Given what we’re learning about red and processed meats, it makes sense.

5. Fewer cases of diabetes

close-up of a man checking his blood sugar

There are less people with diabetes in these communities. | iStock.com

Diabetes is associated with obesity, so where there are lower rates of obesity, you’re bound to find lower rates of diabetes. Gallup’s report shows that relationship, as the nation’s healthiest communities tend to have lower obesity rates and lower diabetes rates.

6. Lower blood pressure and cholesterol

Stethoscope and blood pressure monitor

Those in these communities have lower blood pressure. | iStock.com

But we’re not done — obesity and diabetes are often joined by another serious health issue: high blood pressure and cholesterol. A balanced, healthy diet and exercise will ward off all three of these issues, but if you let things spiral out of control, these obesity-related problems can compound and you’ll find yourself in ill health.

7. Fewer cases of depression

A depressed young man in bed

Depression is reportedly lower, too. | iStock.com

Mental health is just as important as physical health, and Gallup’s report shows that the healthiest communities reflect that. Depression rates are lower in healthier communities. The report also takes other factors into account in regards to mental health, like well-being and life evaluation. The takeaway, however, is that depression is more prevalent in communities where physical health is poor.