LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – For the third year in a row, Los Alamos County has made national headlines as the nation’s healthiest community. The county outranks thousands of communities nationwide thanks to factors such as a low rate of smoking, high rate of health insurance coverage, and a high life expectancy.

As the first community to not only repeat, but re-repeat its number one ranking since the launch of the Healthiest Community Rankings by the U.S. News & World Report in 2018, Los Alamos is securing its reputation as a high-quality community. This year, it has outranked Falls Church, Virginia; Douglas County, Colorado; Morgan County, Utah and Carver County, Minnesota.

“I absolutely love living here,” says Jonathan LeDuc, a Los Alamos resident and business operator. “It is how I feel every town and community really should be.”

The ranking system uses 89 different metrics encompassing everything from community education to infrastructure. The final list was made as a collaboration between U.S. News, the University of Missouri Extension Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems and CVS Health.

According to the analysis, less than 3% of the county’s population lacks health insurance, and only about 9% of the county smokes — compared to a nationwide median of 20%. Life expectancy in Los Alamos is good too, at about 84 years. Nationwide, the median life expectancy is only 77.5 years, the analysis shows.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Los Alamos ranks particularly high in household income. And with that comes high rankings in other metrics.

Los Alamos County has a median household income of almost $140,000. The U.S. median is only about $59,000 according to the U.S. News analysis. Los Alamos’s unemployment rate is only about 3.6%, while the nationwide median rate is 6.5%.

Many residents, of course, work for the Los Alamos National Lab. But not everyone does. And for residents with lower-wage jobs, life in Los Alamos can be a bit more difficult, LeDuc says.

“I have never worked in the lab. So I’ve always been a working class person,” LeDuc says. “And it’s been tough to be here. I’ve been here since 1993, and at points it’s been a struggle.”

As with many other communities across the nation, housing costs can be a burden in Los Alamos. LeDuc says he likely wouldn’t have been able to afford his home if he hadn’t bought it during the 2009 housing crisis, when prices were cheap. And rental options are on the pricier side as well, he says.

“I feel it’s more expensive than Santa Fe because there’s not a low-income option,” LeDuc says. But despite not being perfect, LeDuc says there are plenty of reasons to love Los Alamos.

“People are genuinely pleasant and genuinely happy. I mean, it’s pretty well the expectation that you say ‘hi’ to somebody as you walk by them,” he explains. “We have tremendous open spaces and trails. I love our open space.”

And recently, the Los Alamos Summer Concert Series has brought live music to the community park. LeDuc says the concerts are a chance to “come hang out, just be a community, and enjoy a concert together as our town.”

Los Alamos also ranks high in terms of public safety. With communities like Albuquerque experiencing relatively high rates of violent crime, Los Alamos seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum.

In 2020, the Los Alamos Police Department reported 13 violent crimes, according to data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). That’s roughly one violent crime for every 1,500 people in the county. Statewide, there’s roughly one violent crime for every 230 people. In other words, Los Alamos’s violent crime rate is around six times lower than the statewide rate.

“Los Alamos is extraordinarily safe,” LeDuc says. “And that, I think is one of our best assets.”

And LeDuc says in the nearly 30 years he’s been in Los Alamos, it’s been improving.

“Things have really changed positively and for the better since I’ve been here. I moved here when I was 13 years old. It was really tough to be a teenager,” he says. “Now, I’ve raised my son, and he’s now 23. He, as a teenager, it seemed like it was much more okay to be a teenager in this town. So I really think there’s been a lot of positive growth in that area. There’s been a lot more acceptance happening. I think it’s I think it’s a much better place to live now than it was back then.”

The nationwide rankings are intended to not only celebrate the healthiest communities, but to also bring awareness to communities that need improvement. While Los Alamos County ranks highly, none of the other counties in New Mexico made it into the top 500.

“Now more than ever, we need to address social determinants of health and create a more equitable health care system that focuses on investing in our local communities. It will take stakeholders from across the health care spectrum to eliminate health disparities. We know that no one person, organization or entity can do this alone. The private sector, employers, governments, hospitals, health care workers – everyone has a role to play,” says Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the vice president and chief health equity officer of CVS Health.

“The true measure of success will be when we see progress from collaborations that address social determinants of health and reduce inequities. By working together, we will be a catalyst for change and make a lasting impact on the well-being of people and communities across the country,” Khaldun adds.