By Staff and The Associated Press

Rockbridge County is the 31st healthiest locality in Virginia, according to a report released Wednesday ranking 133 cities and counties across the Commonwealth. The City of Lexington fills the 50th spot, while Buena Vista comes in at 87.

The report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin researchers ranked cities and counties by several health factors and other areas such as education, access to health care, and unemployment.

The report declared Fairfax County the healthiest area overall, followed by Loudoun and Arlington, all in northern Virginia; Albemarle, in central Virginia; and York, in eastern Virginia.

Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington have filled the top three spots each of the survey’s four years.

The southern half of the state had the highest rates of premature death, physical inactivity, adult smokers, residents in poor physical health, unemployment, children in poverty and uninsured residents.

Rockbridge County and the two cities were all above the state average for uninsured adults under the age of 65.

At the bottom of the list is the city of Petersburg, whose premature death rate was more than double the state average and four times higher than Fairfax County. Petersburg also was last in behaviors such as adult smoking and obesity and physical inactivity, and worst in social and economic factors such as education, unemployment and poverty.

Others among the unhealthiest areas were Tazewell, Buchanan, Dickenson and Henry counties.

Buena Vista ranks 120th out of 133 in terms of physical environment, a measure of the area’s drinking water quality, access to recreational facilities and prevalence of fast food restaurants. Lexington and Rockbridge County rank 19th and 60th, respectively, in the same category.

The rankings can be used by leaders in government, business, health care, and residents to “create a culture of health in their community,” Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a statement.

“Public health and the health care community play an important role in leading the way to sustaining healthy communities. But so much of what influences good health happens outside of the physician’s office,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Cynthia Romero said in a statement. “What we eat, the safety of our communities, how much family and social support we have and our level of education and understanding all influence our health and well-being.”

The report also included rankings based on various measures, including air pollution, access to recreational facilities and healthy foods, the number of fast-food restaurants, and premature death trends over the previous decade.

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