The healthiest cities in the U.S. for families

Children pick up healthy behaviors from their parents. This is why it’s important for parents to pick a community that encourages good behaviors.

It’s no surprise that health and safety often top parents’ list when choosing where to settle down. Especially in the U.S., where many health indicators lag behind other wealthy nations, location can make all the difference when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), community factors have a major impact on people’s health choices. Especially when it comes to diet and physical activity, it’s challenging for parents (and children) to make healthy decisions in environments that don’t support good habits.


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Additionally, studies show that children pick up healthy behaviors from their parents. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important for parents to pick a community that encourages these behaviors in themselves.

Families should also be aware that, like most things, the habits children learn when they’re young stick around. For example, children who suffer from obesity are more likely to be obese as adults. Childhood obesity is particularly challenging due to its long-term effects on both physical and mental health. (We even tend to pass down our financial habits to our children.)

Fortunately, many American communities score exceptionally well on various health metrics. These include residents who report positive eating habits, physical activity and sufficient sleep, among other factors. To identify such communities, researchers at Fabric, a company creating financial products for families, examined health indicators provided by the CDC.

For each of the 200 largest cities in the U.S., Fabric created a composite health score based on the following:

  • Self-reported time people spent feeling physically and mentally healthy

  • Sleep

  • Physical activity

  • Health insurance coverage

  • Drinking habits

  • Smoking habits

  • Obesity rates

For a complete list of metrics and definitions, see the methodology section below. Here’s what Fabric found:

Takeaways

  • Health issues tend to impact low-income communities the hardest. While the overall composite health score created for this analysis does not take poverty into account, the research indicates that poverty is an important predictor of many health outcomes and behaviors across all of the cities observed. Unfortunately, cost can be a limiting factor when it comes to things like access to care and healthy foods. That said, many healthy choices can actually save money, such as not smoking, not binge drinking and not overeating. Similarly, walking or riding a bike are cheaper alternatives to driving or taking public transportation.

  • Binge drinking is common among young adults, who otherwise tend to be healthier than older adults. Even though the overall composite health score penalizes cities with high rates of binge drinking, many of the healthiest cities listed below nonetheless have a high proportion of residents who drink heavily. According to the CDC, binge drinking peaks in the age groups 18-24 and 25-34, which also happen to be the most physically active and healthy age groups. Even in America’s healthiest communities, binge drinking is an issue that deserves attention.

  • Within certain metropolitan areas, nearby cities show a wide range of health scores. For example, the Los Angeles metropolitan area is home to both Irvine and Santa Ana, which rank third and 135th on the composite score respectively. This is namely due to differences in obesity rates, mental health, smoking and physical activity. For families moving to a new metro area, it can be important to choose a neighborhood wisely.

  • California is home to more healthy communities than any other state in the country. Of the top 15 healthiest cities, just under half are located in the Golden State.

The Top 15 Healthiest Cities

15. Scottsdale, Arizona

  • Overall health score: 78.4

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:90.9%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 90.0%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 67.7%

  • Physically active: 84.4%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 91.9%

  • Binge drinking rate: 18.9%

  • Smoking rate: 12.6%

  • Obesity rate: 23.4%

Occupying the same metropolitan area as Phoenix, Scottsdale is located just northeast of the state capital. Neighboring McDowell Sonoran Reserve is home to a beautiful desert landscape, with plenty of trails for local nature lovers.

14. Huntington Beach, California

  • Overall health score: 78.5

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:90.0%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 89.6%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 69.2%

  • Physically active: 85.1%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 91.5%

  • Binge drinking rate: 18.8%

  • Smoking rate: 12.2%

  • Obesity rate: 20.8%

The coastal city features plenty of beachfront for swimmers and surfers, with average temperatures often in the 70s well into November. Residents seem to take advantage of the warm weather, with just over 85 percent reporting leisure-time physical activity as part of their routine.

13. Alexandria, Virginia

  • Overall health score: 78.9

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month: 91.1%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 90.4%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 69.1%

  • Physically active: 82.4%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 88.3%

  • Binge drinking rate: 17.7%

  • Smoking rate: 12.4%

  • Obesity rate: 24.9%

Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Alexandria residents fare surprisingly well on health metrics when compared to their neighbors in the nation’s capital. Compared to Washington D.C., which ranks 49th out of 200 cities, Alexandria has a larger percentage of residents getting at least seven hours of sleep every night. Alexandria also has lower binge drinking and smoking rates.

12. San Francisco, California

  • Overall health score: 79.8

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:91.0%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 90.2%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 69.7%

  • Physically active: 82.1%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 91.3%

  • Binge drinking rate: 21.2%

  • Smoking rate: 11.5%

  • Obesity rate: 17.2%

While some San Franciscans spend their days in front of computer screens, others take advantage of the Bay Area’s terrific access to the outdoors. Even though many residents are physically active and mentally healthy, the city has one of the highest rates of binge drinking of any city in the nation, a trend most common among people between the ages of 18 and 34.

11. Olathe, Kansas

  • Overall health score: 80.5

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:91.8%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 90.6%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 73.3%

  • Physically active: 82.6%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 87.7%

  • Binge drinking rate: 18.8%

  • Smoking rate: 14.7%

  • Obesity rate: 25.6%

Located just outside of Kansas City, Olathe is home to residents who seem to understand the importance of getting enough sleep. Olathe is ranked second in the nation for healthy sleep habits and in the top ten for physically and mentally healthy residents.

10. Frisco, Texas

  • Overall health score: 80.6

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:91.9%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 91.0%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 70.1%

  • Physically active: 82.4%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 88.3%

  • Binge drinking rate: 19.2%

  • Smoking rate: 11.8%

  • Obesity rate: 25.9%

Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Frisco stands apart from its neighbors for its exceptionally healthy residents. Frisco ranks seventh in the nation for mentally healthy residents and sixth for residents citing physical health. The Frisco Athletic Center is a public athletic center that provides more than 100,000 square feet of indoor wellness opportunities, including aquatics, fitness classes and personal training.

9. Naperville, Illinois

  • Overall health score: 81.4

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:91.7%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 91.6%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 70.5%

  • Physically active: 83.2%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 93.2%

  • Binge drinking rate: 21.5%

  • Smoking rate: 11.9%

  • Obesity rate: 26.2%

Located in the western suburbs of Chicago, residents of Naperville have access to a wide range of outdoor activities, including two golf courses, four sports complexes and over 130 separate parks. Naperville has the fifth highest share of mentally healthy residents out of any city, though it also ranks eighth in the nation for the share of residents who binge drink.

8. Seattle, Washington

  • Overall health score: 83.5

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:91.0%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 90.2%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 70.9%

  • Physically active: 86.6%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 92.0%

  • Binge drinking rate: 17.7%

  • Smoking rate: 10.4%

  • Obesity rate: 23.1%

Like San Francisco, this tech hub is one of the healthiest cities in the nation. With Mt. Rainier to the south, Olympic State Park to the west and extensive waterways in the city itself, residents have plenty of options for activity. Seattle has one of the most active populations and also one of the lowest smoking rates of any city.

7. Torrance, California

  • Overall health score: 83.9

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:91.6%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 90.8%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 65.4%

  • Physically active: 84.9%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 92.0%

  • Binge drinking rate: 17.0%

  • Smoking rate: 9.9%

  • Obesity rate: 18.0%

Like Huntington Beach, Torrance sits just outside of Los Angeles and benefits from easy access to the beach. With warm temperatures and low humidity, this southern California city provides residents with ample opportunity to enjoy the outdoors year round. It’s not surprising that Torrance ranks 11th overall for physical activity.

6. Cary, North Carolina

  • Overall health score: 84.2

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:92.3%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 90.5%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 70.7%

  • Physically active: 85.5%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 88.9%

  • Binge drinking rate: 17.6%

  • Smoking rate: 11.6%

  • Obesity rate: 22.5%

Located west of Raleigh and south of Durham Hill, Cary ranks fifth in the nation for physical activity, as well as 10th for mental health. Tennis courts, swimming pools and trails throughout its public park system help residents maintain an active lifestyle during the warmer months. In fact, Cary was designated as a National Walk-Friendly Community in 2017.

5. Fremont, California

  • Overall health score: 87.6

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:92.3%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 91.6%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 66.0%

  • Physically active: 84.4%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 92.3%

  • Binge drinking rate: 16.7%

  • Smoking rate: 10.0%

  • Obesity rate: 15.3%

Fremont plays host to ecological and wildlife preserves on the San Francisco Bay, with numerous regional parks inland. The city also boasts the lowest rate of obesity in the nation, as well as the fifth highest rate of physically healthy residents.

4. Overland Park, Kansas

  • Overall health score: 87.6

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:92.9%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 91.6%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 74.4%

  • Physically active: 85.0%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 90.1%

  • Binge drinking rate: 18.8%

  • Smoking rate: 12.4%

  • Obesity rate: 23.7%

People often overlook sleep as a contributing factor to health, but it can be one of the most important behaviors affecting physical and mental health. This goes some way toward explaining why Overland Park, with the highest share of residents sleeping at least seven hours per night, ranks as the fourth-healthiest city in the nation.

3. Irvine, California

  • Overall health score: 89.9

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:91.8%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 91.4%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 68.9%

  • Physically active: 86.1%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 93.5%

  • Binge drinking rate: 15.4%

  • Smoking rate: 9.2%

  • Obesity rate: 16.7%

Irvine has some of the most convenient access to the Santa Ana Mountains. Irvine abuts Crystal Cove State Park, Limestone Peak Regional Park and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, giving residents a variety of options to take advantage of Southern California’s warm weather.

2. Sunnyvale, California

  • Overall health score: 91.2

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:92.3%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 91.9%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 69.6%

  • Physically active: 83.4%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 92.3%

  • Binge drinking rate: 14.8%

  • Smoking rate: 8.6%

  • Obesity rate: 17.2%

Sunnyvale is the third city from the Bay Area to appear on this list. Compared to rest of the U.S., Sunnyvale has both the lowest smoking rate and the highest rate of mentally healthy residents of any large city. Additionally, this Silicon Valley city reports one of the highest rates of health insurance coverage in the country.

1. Bellevue, Washington

  • Overall health score: 91.5

  • Physically healthy at least 14 days in a month:92.4%

  • Mentally healthy at least 14 days in a month: 91.7%

  • Sufficient sleep (>7 hours/night): 71.5%

  • Physically active: 88.0%

  • Health insurance coverage rate: 92.8%

  • Binge drinking rate: 17.0%

  • Smoking rate: 8.7%

  • Obesity rate: 19.6%

Bellevue boasts the highest share of physically active residents in the nation, at nearly nine in 10. Located just across Lake Washington from Seattle, Bellevue enjoys most of the same ready access to the wilderness. Also like Seattle, Bellevue residents tend to get sufficient sleep and only a small share of the population smokes. All of these factors combine to make Bellevue the healthiest city in the United States.

Want More Data?

Here’s the full rundown with all of our findings.

Methodology

All health metrics were derived from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 500 Cities 2018 data release. Population, poverty and insurance statistics are taken from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

The composite score used to rank each city was calculated using the following metrics:

  • Physically healthy (17 points) – Respondents who report 14 or more days during the past 30 days during which their physical health was good.

  • Mentally healthy (17 points) – Respondents who report 14 or more days during the past 30 days during which their mental health was good.

  • Sufficient sleep (14 points) – Respondents who report usually getting sufficient sleep (>7 hours on average during a 24-hour period).

  • Physically active (12 points) – Respondents who report participating in physical activities—such as running, calisthenics, golf, gardening, or walking for exercise—outside of their regular job.

  • Health insurance coverage rate (10 points) – Respondents who report having current health insurance coverage.

  • Binge drinking rate (10 points) – Respondents who report having five or more drinks (men) or four or more drinks (women) on an occasion in the past 30 days.

  • Smoking rate (10 points) – Respondents who report having smoked ≥100 cigarettes in their lifetime and currently smoke every day or some days.

  • Obesity rate (10 points) – Respondents who have a body mass index (BMI) ≥30.0 kg/m² calculated from self-reported weight and height.

All data is for the population aged ≥18 years. Only the 200 most populous cities in the United States were considered.

This article originally appeared on Fabric.


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