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

Church Street pedestrian mall, business district, Burlington, Vermont
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:
  • frequency of exercise and consumption of fresh produce
  • low incidence of diabetes and obesity
  • health care coverage
  • optimism

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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Mary Alred

Not sure how you lump in Paso Robles with San Luis Obispo. I lived in Paso Robles for years. There is nothing but fast food and very few restaurants. San Luis Obispo different, college town and very few fast food restaurants there. I will tell you that is does have one of the highest cancer rates in the nation. This may be due to the Power Plant in Morro Bay.. This article is skewed totally.

February 24 2014 at 7:48 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mary Alred's comment
Diane Standley

Mary, when did you live in Paso? Must have been awhile ago, because there are many great restaurants (from casual to fine) in both Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. I suggest you check out to see all the well reviewed restaurants in both cities. Add on all the amazing wineries and farmer's markets and you have a pretty amazing area for good food! That must be the reason that Sunset Magazine has their 'Savor the Central Coast' in SLO County each September. And if you're speaking about Morro Bay's power plant, it has been offline since 2014 and only operating at a small capacity for years. You might be thinking of Diablo Nuclear Plant in Avila Beach...but still, let us know your source for the cancer stats.

May 11 2015 at 9:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

how did Bremerton, WA (A.K.A. Methberry) get on this list? there are nothing but fast food places and restaurants with disgusting food. the grocery stores have slimy produce. we have to drive out to Poulsbo to go to a grocery store to get quality foods or eat at a real restaurant. the majority of the population are morbidly obese hookers and junkies who think Kraft mac n cheese with hamburger in it and Arco hot case foods are top quality and nutritious.

February 24 2014 at 4:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Kennewick, WA? Really? That's right next to the Hanford Nuclear site. I wouldn't live there if you paid me, much less raise children. Makes this whole list suspect.

February 23 2014 at 3:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris Kido

I know it's a joke if any place in Nebraska is on the list, but especially Lincoln, must be a husker fan who led the study, omg we are all in trouble if Lincoln the best small city in US

February 23 2014 at 10:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Chris Kido's comment

If you are white, it's a great place to live. Almost cult-like and very small minded like a small town.

February 24 2014 at 12:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
setanta54s_back huffing_ho still requiring a face_book account to post ? let's see....

February 06 2014 at 8:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

oooooooooooh my my AOL/daiLy fiNAnce continue to stay safe leaving "where the uninsured live" and cvs not selling the EVIL WEED known as tobaccO to FauX news and yeah we know all about fX for some time and will let them go to hell and continue to use this internet for ACCURATE NEWS.

February 06 2014 at 8:31 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

aaaaaaaaaaaaand these top 10 towns have what percentage of well off retireeS that definitely run around buying and paying top dollar for their organics and health clubs/spas ?

how 'bout a list of the top 10 with lowest taxes,personal freedoms,low crime etc via sperling's list ?

February 06 2014 at 8:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

what does the availability of health insurance have to do with this story? sounds like advertising fo health insurance.
Lincoln is a beautiful town.
So is Barnstable.
And the other eight.
We can't all move there and if we do their ratings will plunge.

February 04 2014 at 6:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply