What We Can Learn From America’s Healthiest Cities

Each year, communities across the United States participate in programs designed to improve the health and well-being of their citizens. These efforts are undertaken to improve residents’ quality of life and reduce the costs associated with poor health and chronic diseases. Of course, encouraging wellness isn’t just good for a city’s residents, it’s also good for the cities where they live.

In The Value of Wellness, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, MD, MPH, writes,

The health and economy of communities are often strongly correlated. Healthier communities tend to be economically more prosperous, and vice versa. Improved community conditions for health such as clean and safe neighborhoods, access to healthful food options, and opportunities for exercise and physical activity can change health behaviors for the better, which can in turn create a more productive workforce.  [1] 

The wellness initiatives that benefit America’s healthiest cities can benefit your business, too. And, your company can learn from these cities’ successes. So, let’s take a look at what makes a city healthy and what we can learn from them.

What makes a city healthy?

The criteria for a city as one of the nation’s healthiest vary depending on who you ask. For example, Trulia.com considered 10 healthy living factors when creating its “fit list” focused on recreation and physical activity. Because of its ample opportunities for outdoor activities all year round, Salt Lake City, Utah made it to the top of Trulia’s list. Second on Trulia’s list was West Palm Beach, Florida. This city, too, offers lots of parks and green spaces and plenty of recreational facilities.

To compile its list of healthy communities Gallup, in cooperation with Sharecare, surveyed residents from cities across America to uncover their perceptions regarding their health and well-being. To determine a community’s ranking, the survey asked residents about their sense of purpose, social interactions, financial security, feelings about the community, and physical health. The Gallup-Sharecare 2017 Community Well-Being Rankings report puts the community of Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Florida in the number one spot. Barnstable Town, Massachusetts landed at number two, and Boulder, Colorado ranked third.

The American College of Sports Medicine publishes a list of healthy cities too. Its widely publicized ACSM American Fitness Index 2018 rankings are based on an evaluation of the physical, mental, social, and economic health of each community’s residents. The ACSM Fitness Index evaluates 33 different indicators to determine how well a community is performing in the wellness department. These indicators include factors such as individual residents’ health behaviors, the availability of recreational facilities and green spaces, improvements in population health outcomes, and the status of health-related policies and funding.  In 2018, Arlington, Virginia was named the fittest city in America by ACSM. Minneapolis, Minnesota was a close second, followed by Washington, D.C. in third place. Madison, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Denver, Colorado were also top-performing cities. St. Paul, Minnesota; San Jose, California; and Boise, Idaho rounded out the ACMS American Fitness Index 2018 top ten. [2] 

What can we learn about wellness promotion from America’s healthiest cities?

Here are four ways you can use community wellness methods to improve your employees’ well-being:

First, healthy communities take a holistic approach to enhancing their citizens’ well-being.

If you look at the ranking criteria used to judge America’s healthiest cities, you’ll probably notice that several factors contribute to a community’s health. The cities that are healthiest don’t focus on just one aspect of wellness but instead target several areas including education, safety, and prevention. Your workplace wellness initiative will be most effective if you do the same.

Wellness involves more than an individual’s physical health. According to the Gallup-Sharecare, having a sense of purpose–liking what you do each day–is essential to an individual’s well-being. So, take steps to ensure that your employees are engaged with their work and feel appreciated for the work they do. Your holistic approach to wellness may also include financial literacy and other supportive services.

Second, healthy communities invest in the necessary infrastructure to support good health. Your business can do this by making sure that your physical plant includes green spaces and safe walkways for employees to use throughout the day. Access to natural light and nature will improve your employees’ mood and their job satisfaction.

Third, healthy communities provide healthy food choices. Since your employees spend much of their day at work, you can impact their food choices by making healthy foods a convenient option. Serve a variety of nutritious foods in your company cafeteria. And, consider swapping out the traditional junk food in your vending machines with healthier fare. You can also involve your surrounding community by inviting food trucks that offer healthy meal options to visit your campus or by hosting an on-site farmer’s market.

Finally, remember that your company’s culture will drive support for your wellness initiatives. Every healthy city has policymakers and stakeholders who advocate and support the community’s wellness efforts. Your business should too. To generate involvement throughout your organization, assemble a workplace wellness team that draws its members from different departments and seniority levels. Find your wellness champions–the employees who will volunteer to lead the charge and spread the word about good health.

Winning With Wellness

Improving the health and wellness of your employees enhances their quality of life. But, improved wellness also contributes to the overall performance of your business. Just as a city benefits from investing in the health of its citizens, your business does too. You’ll enjoy higher productivity levels, save money through lowered costs, and attract more qualified job candidates when you invest in your employees’ health and wellness.

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