With #1 being the lowest ranked city, the following list also includes County Health Rankings’ original overall rank. See what you think…
1. Petersburg (#133)
Located just south of the capital city of Richmond, Petersburg was once a booming transportation hub and boasts a long and fascinating history. Today, Petersburg remains a transportation center, serving as the junction of several interstate highways and several U.S. highways, as well as several train lines. Unfortunately, Petersburg shows high rates of obesity, adult smoking and physical inactivity, despite having access to exercise facilities. Likewise, clinical care and socio-economic factors both score poorly in the area. Physical environment comes out a little higher and reminds us that, regardless of the scores, Petersburg is still a city with a diverse history and many beautiful areas.
2. Buchanan County (#132) - includes Grundy, Big Rock, Council, Davenport, Harman, Keen Mountain and others
Surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of Virginia's Appalachian Mountains, this moderate-sized county of around 25,000 people comes in with the second lowest health rankings in Virginia. Buchanan's numbers show poor clinical care rates, including high rates of uninsured residents and limited access to care, as well as high levels of obesity and lower socio-economic factors. Of course, none of this implies that Buchanan residents aren't making efforts to stay fit and healthy - and thanks to services like the SSIR Global Health Remote Area Medical clinic, many residents can receive additional health care support that they may not have had access to previously.
3. Hopewell (#131)
The city of Hopewell has a long history, dating as far back as the early 17th century and features a number of Civil War battlefields and other historical sites. Today, this city of around 23,000 is home to several large chemical plants and a paper mill. Over the years, these types of industries have had some environmental impacts which definitely create health concerns. However, physical environment is not the biggest factor in Hopewell's low health scores. Instead, unhealthy behaviors (high rates of smoking and obesity) and low scores for both clinical care and socio-economic factors bring the city's scores down. Fortunately, events like Hopewell's weekly downtown farmer's market help to put an emphasis back on healthy behaviors.
4. Dickenson County (#130) - includes Clinchco, Clintwood, Haysi, Nora and Caney Ridge
Located in Southwest Virginia, Dickenson County is actually the state's youngest county, having "only" been formed in 1880. Like many areas that, historically, have depended on coal mining, Dickenson experiences lower social and economic conditions. Likewise, air quality is probably not where residents would like to see it. However, Dickenson's lowest scores resulted from poor clinical care rates and unhealthy behaviors, with factors like adult smoking almost doubling the state average. On the bright side, with lots of parks, trails and attractions like Breaks Insterstate Park, Dickenson residents have access to some of the state's most beautiful "playgrounds," providing many opportunities for healthy outdoor activities.
5. Emporia (#129)
Although it is an independent city, Emporia is the second-smallest city in Virginia with just under 6,000 residents as of the 2010 census. While Emporia's obesity and inactivity rates are higher than state averages, the biggest issues for this little city came with socio-economic factors and clinical care. Lower education rates and a particularly high number of children in poverty contribute to lower overall health for the city, as does high rates of uninsured residents. However, with events like the Great Peanut Ride, which runs through Emporia, and regular group rides hosted by The Emporia Bicycling Club, residents have many opportunities to participate in healthy activities.
6. Brunswick County (#128) - includes Alberta, Broadnax, Lawrenceville, Gasburg, White Plains and others
This rural county in Southern Virginia claims to be where Virginia's ultimate comfort food, Brunswick Stew, was invented. Unfortunately, Brunswick is also home to some less than ideal health factors, including higher than average rates of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Likewise, socio-economic factors rank below the state average. However, physical environment scores come in much better - better even than some of the healthiest cities in the state.
7. Wise County (#127) - includes Appalachia, Big Stone Gap, Coeburn, Pound, St. Paul, Wise and others
This county of approximately 40,000 people sits in the far southwest corner of the state. Surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains and breathtaking scenery all around, Wise County sees less than ideal scores in terms of healthy behaviors and clinical care. Unfortunately, socio-economic and physical environment scores don't look much better. But with its rich cultural heritage and Appalachian history, Wise remains a beautiful place to live and visit, whether for the mountain hikes and trails throughout the area or for one of the many cultural and music festivals that are hosted in the county throughout the year.
8. Lee County (#126) - includes Jonesville, Pennington Gap, St. Charles, Ewing, Ben Hur, Dryden, Rose Hill and others
Located in, quite literally, the farthest southwestern corner of the state, Lee County is home to some of the state's most incredible natural sites, including the Cumberland Gap, Wilderness Road State Park and Gap Caverns. However, when it comes to health, Lee County faces some challenges, particularly with regards to poor water quality, less than ideal air quality, and higher than average poverty and unemployment rates. Likewise, the county scored consistently low with regards to clinical care.
9. Russell County (#125) - includes Cleveland, Honaker, Lebanon, St. Paul, Castlewood, Dante, Rosedale and others
Like it's neighbors, Lee, Wise, Buchanan and Dickenson, Russell County offers a paradox of incredible natural beauty, but less than perfect health ratings. In fact, this county's scores remained consistently low in all evaluation categories: Health Behaviors, Clinical Care, Social and Economic Factors and Physical Environment. Despite a low ranking, Russell County seems to be playing an active role in bettering quality of life and care for its residents. According to the county website, a number of initiatives are currently underway, such as improved recycling and a county wellness center. In the meantime, groups like the Russell County Medical Center and the non-profit Mountain State Health Alliance provide ongoing care and education to improve residents' overall health and well being. And of course, anyone can improve their health with a view like the one shown above from The Channels (on the border of Russell and Washington County).
10. Martinsville (#124)
Like many small cities and towns throughout the state, this small city in the southern part of Virginia has experienced a decline in economic growth in recent years. And unfortunately, that correlation between wealth and health seems to be evident. Martinsville lowest performing category was social and economic, including unemployment rates that more than doubled the state averages. While physical environment and health behaviors kept Martinsville's scores down, clinical care was slightly higher, showing evidence that the city is working to provide quality health care to its residents. And certainly, even with it's down sides, there's still a lot to love about Martinsville.
What’s perhaps most interesting to note when looking at Virginia’s least healthy areas is how health and wealth are almost inextricably connected to one another. Lower socio-economic factors undeniably play a part in the overall health and well being of a community. It is certainly my hope for the future that we will see ongoing efforts to provide better healthcare, increase access to healthy foods and continued health education – no matter where you live in the state.
What do you think of the results? Are you surprised? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!