America’s 10 Healthiest Small Cities: Where the Living Is Healthy

Alamy In Garrison Keillor’s fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minn., “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

And no wonder. Lake Wobegon is a small town — and in America, small towns really are above average — at least, according to the findings of polling company Gallup.

For some years now, Gallup has operated a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in cooperation with health management company Healthways (HWAY), ranking the quality of life of American cities, based on such factors as the population’s:

Putting all this data in a bowl, and mixing well, Gallup has determined that the average “well-being” of towns and cities in America is “66.7.” But small towns and cities score 0.6 points higher — 67.3 — and several specific small towns score significantly better than that.

Here they are for your perusal.

No. 10: Kennewick, Wash.

The city of Kennewick — technically, the tri-city region of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland — had a population of 253,340 at the time of the 2010 Census, keeping it comfortably under the 300,000 threshold for a “small city,” according to Gallup. With an overall well-being index reading of 68.8, it’s apparently a nicer place than average to live in — home to a happy, well-exercised, vegetable-loving populace.

Two marks Kennewick has against it, though, are high incidences of both diabetes and obesity — complicated by a low rate of insurance coverage. But…

No. 9: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

The next city in the Gallup survey is free of such ills. With low levels of disease, good insurance coverage, and high marks for exercise and nutrition, there’s every reason for Cedar Rapid’s citizens (roughly 126,000) to feel above-averagely optimistic — and to enjoy their well-being rating of 69.6.

No. 8: Bremerton, Wash.

Washington scores its second touchdown in the Gallup poll thanks to the small city of Bremerton and the nearby unincorporated community of Silverdale — combined population, a bit under 60,000. The incidence of diabetes is a tad high here, but in all other respects, Bremerton-Silverdale scores above the national average, and boasts a well-being reading of 70.0.

No. 7: Bellingham, Wash.

Washington runs up the score with the small city of Bellingham. The county seat of Whatcom County is home to around 81,000 residents. Rates of illness are below average, which is good because the percentage of uninsured people is a bit high. Otherwise, the town looks top-notch, with a well-being rating of 70.2.

No. 6: Charlottesville, Va.

Gallup travels below the Mason-Dixon precisely once for this list, to the small city of Charlottesville. The home to the University of Virginia, it wins above-average scores across the board on all health and well-being factors. Population: around 43,000. Well-being score: 71.1.

No. 5: San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.

Gallup lumps these two California towns (combined population: 75,000 together, but they shouldn’t mind. They’re each in good company with a well-being rating of 71.2. Once again, incidence of diabetes and obesity are both below the national averages, with exercise, healthy eating, insurance coverage, and optimism well above the national averages.

No. 4: Barnstable, Mass.

Technically a small city, the Town of Barnstable is the seat of Barnstable County — which makes up all of Cape Cod and some nearby islands. Despite outscoring many other small towns on Gallup’s survey with a well-being score of 71.5, Barnstable actually scores below average in one category: Optimism about the city. Still, the city scores well on other metrics, and overall, this population of 45,000 citizens is deemed the fourth-best in well-being.

No. 3: Loveland, Colo.

In conjunction with neighboring Fort Collins — named Money magazine’s Best Place to Live in the U.S. in 2006 — Loveland and Fort Collins boasts a combined population of boasts a combined population of more than 200,000. souls (as of the 2010 Census). With a well-being rating of 71.6, the area ranks No. 3 among small cities in America, with one caveat: They need to eat a bit more broccoli. Only 56.4 percent of the populace say they eat fresh produce “frequently,” versus a national average of 57.8 percent.

No. 2: Burlington, Vt.

Despite a population of just 42,000, Burlington is the largest city in Vermont — though including its metro area, the population swells to 213,701. Unsurprising for the No. 2 “best-being” small city in the country, with an overall score of 72.4, Burlington scores above average for exercise, healthy eating, optimism, and insurance coverage, and below average for such risk factors as diabetes and obesity.

And finally, the small city with the best well-being score in the nation is…

No. 1: Lincoln, Neb.

In this capital city of the state of Nebraska, a low incidence of diabetes outweighs a slightly elevated risk of obesity. Good exercise habits and good insurance coverage trump a disdain for fresh produce. What really appears to put Lincoln over the top of its small-city rivals, though, is the unbridled optimism of the citizens. An impressive three out of four Lincolnites — 75.9 percent — say they’re optimistic about the future — a higher percentage than Gallup was able to find in any other small city in the survey, and the third-highest percentage of any city in the country. It’s overall well-being score is 72.8.

It may sound like a small hook to hang a top rating on, but apparently, a little optimism goes a long way. Not only do Gallup and Healthways think Lincoln is the city with the best well-being in the country, the Centers for Disease Control thinks so, too. In 2008, it named Lincoln the No. 1 healthiest city in the United States — of any size.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

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