Douglas County named nation's healthiest

U.S. News & World Report reveals 2019 rankings

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Douglas County is the healthiest community in America.

That's according to rankings from U.S. News & World Report and the Aetna Foundation, which announced the 2019 Healthiest Communities on March 26. Landing in the No. 1 spot is Douglas County, which ranked No. 2 last year and has frequently ranked first or second on similar reports.

The U.S. News & World Report rankings evaluated nearly 3,000 communities throughout the nation, factoring in things like education, mental and physical health, and infrastructure. Communities were scored based on 81 metrics within 10 categories.

Seven communities in Colorado ranked among the top 20, with Broomfield County ranked fifth in the nation. Los Alamos County, New Mexico, was ranked No. 2 in the nation, and Falls Church, Virginia — last year's No. 1— was ranked third.

Colorado had the highest average score in the report's environment category, which measured natural amenities, air and water quality.

Lora Thomas, chairwoman of the Douglas County Board of County Commissioners, said the announcement was an honor for the county.

She believes a number of things led to Douglas County's ranking, naming a strong business base to start, but also the county's relationships with municipalities, access to good hospitals, trail systems, a library system and more.

Scanning over the 10 categories, education, the economy and housing stood out to her.

“If I were a corporation looking for a place to locate my business, I think I would be looking for these exact things,” she said, sitting at a coffee shop in the Meridian International Business Center in northern Douglas County. “They would make my employees happier and I think it would increase my ability to find a great workforce.”

She also credited residents for choosing a healthy lifestyle, she said, including their choice to invest in education and to exercise. Speaking on behalf of herself and not the full board, Thomas said she often questions if the lack of marijuana dispensaries in Douglas County helps it maintain its healthy status. The consumption of marijuana is legal in the county, as it is statewide, but its sale is banned at the local level.

U.S. News' announcement comes off the heels of other signs Douglas County stands apart in terms of health.

In March, Douglas County was named the healthiest in Colorado by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a national, health-based philanthropy based in New Jersey. It's the fourth consecutive year the county secured the top spot on the foundation's list. Its 2019 County Health Rankings report assessed aspects of community life such as the physical environment, social and economic factors, clinical care, health behaviors and the overall quality of life.

The county was also among places researched last year as part of the American Communities Project, a social science and journalism initiative from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The project's first report, released in 2018, used Douglas County as an example of “The Exurb,” or places located on the edge of a major metropolitan area that are generally wealthy, well-educated and are not “especially diverse,” according to the ACP website. There were 222 exurbs in the U.S. at the time the report was released.

The ACP noted Douglas County's quality of life in the face of rapid growth. Residents overwhelmingly consider it a good place to raise a family. A plethora of open space and recreational opportunities are available.

But the county's growth — the population shot from 285,465 in 2010 to 328,632 by the 2016 Census Population Estimates — set it apart from other exurbs, ACP reported. A 2017 survey found 81 percent of voters believed the county was growing too fast.

The county is expecting three more stops on the Regional Transportation District's light rail line to open within its boundaries by May but plans to invest more in infrastructure as one way of addressing the population growth, Thomas said. Still, she was not concerned about the spike in new residents or pressure to keep the high marks for health going.

“I just think it challenges us to make better decisions,” she said.

 

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