by James A. Bacon
Virginia is a great state in which to live but it could be greater. We Virginians need to set bold goals for ourselves.
One such goal, I would humbly submit, would be to make Virginia the healthiest state in the United States. That would be not only audacious, but it would be achievable, it would be measurable, and it would align with broadly shared values.
I was discussing the idea with family and friends over the weekend, and everyone agreed, yeah, that sounds like a great idea. You don’t have to be a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or a conservative, to want healthier communities. Everyone can jump on board. But setting the goal of becoming Numero Uno in the United States sounded a tad overwhelming to some. Perhaps we should set a lower bar — to become the healthiest state in the Southeast, or maybe the Mid-Atlantic. That sounded like wise advice at the time. But when I checked national health surveys, I discovered that Virginia and its metropolitan regions score respectably well already.
According to the United Health Foundation 2011 survey, Virginia ranked as the 20th healthiest state in the country. It was already the healthiest state in the Southeast, and even the healthiest state in the Mid-Atlantic. Yes, that means that, when ranked by a composite of such indicators as smoking, violent crime, air pollution, occupational fatalities, infant mortality, obesity, binge drinking and access to health insurance, the Old Dominion actually out-performs Maryland (No. 22), Delaware (No. 30) and North Carolina (No. 32), states whom my companions thought might out-perform us.
That relatively strong performance cannot be attributed solely to the highly educated and health-conscious population of Northern Virginia either. While the Washington metropolitan area did rank No. 1 among the nation’s largest 50 metropolitan regions in the 2012 American Fitness Index (using a different but not entirely dissimilar methodology), Richmond ranked 11th and Virginia Beach 17th.
Thus, while it might constitute a stretch for Virginia to become as healthy as Vermont (No. 1) and New Hampshire (No. 2), the gap is bridgeable. It might take a generation to achieve but the rewards would be immense, both in terms of quality of life and economic development. A healthier population is not only a happier population — that goes without saying — but a wealthier population. A healthier population makes employers more competitive and it drains less from the public treasury.
Thanks to a generous sponsorship of Bon Secours Virginia Health System, Bacon’s Rebellion will begin exploring strategies for making Virginia and its constituent regions, especially Richmond, the healthiest state in the union. At this point in time I foresee developing three main themes (although I reserve the right to wander off topic in the pursuit of interesting stories):
- Building more walkable, bikable regions. The premise is simple: People who walk more and bicycle more are healthier than those who don’t.
- Eating healthier food. For the most part, this means eating more locally grown fruits and vegetables — as well as locally grown meats, cheeses and other foodstuffs.
- Working toward cleaner water and cleaner air. Clean water and air are healthier than unclean water and air. The problem is that achieving further gains can be expensive. Which strategies, I’ll be asking, are cost-effective?
Another way to achieve healthier communities is to address deficiencies in the health care system. How do we make health care more affordable and more accessible? How do we improve medical outcomes? These issues are crucial, too. Given limited resources, however, I have chosen to focus on community health rather than the health care system because it dovetails so well with Bacon’s Rebellion‘s existing Piedmont Environmental Council sponsorship to cover transportation and land use in Virginia. (If someone would like us to cover the health care system, we are open to discussion. Check out our sponsorship page.)
Some readers may be aghast at my selection of themes. Bike trails? Green downtowns? Free-range chickens? Has Bacon gone native… or, worse, liberal? Not at all. I plan to focus on areas that should enjoy buy-in from a large cross-section of the population. But, as always, I will apply libertarian-conservative principles that emphasize private-sector solutions and ground-up civic initiatives, not top-down, command-and-control government rules, regulations and subsidies.
Also, I plan to use the Bacon’s Rebellion blog to launch a broader dialogue. I am working on a series of “idea jams” to get the conversation started on several topics tied to the themes described above. These dialogues are purely experimental. If they work, I’ll keep them going. If they don’t, I’ll pull the plug. So, stay tuned. It should be fun…. and good for you, too!