Most known as the birthplace of the atomic bomb, Los Alamos County, New Mexico is now making headlines for a different reason. The small county of only 17,950 residents is the healthiest in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report’s third annual Healthiest Communities report published on Tuesday.
Los Alamos County received an overall score of 100 — 60 percentage points above New Mexico’s state average and 54 percentage points above the national average. Douglas County, Colorado; Falls Church, Virginia; Broomfield County, Colorado; and Routt County, Colorado rounded out the top five with overall scores ranging from 95.5 to 95.1.
U.S. News ranked counties 0 to 100 based on the level of population health, equity, education, economy, housing, food and nutrition, environment, public safety, community vitality, and infrastructure.
Los Alamos’ highest scores were in public health (98.4) and housing (91.3), where the county ranked high in average life expectancy (83.5 years) and affordability.
“A healthy environment is part of what definitely contributes to (Los Alamos County) being a healthy community,” Los Alamos County Council Chair Sara Scott told CNN. “People have the opportunity and the interest in getting out, taking advantage of our mountains, trails, biking, horse-riding (and) golfing.”
When it comes to public health, 90 percent of the population are non-smokers and 87.5 percent of Los Alamosans have consistent physical activities. Only three percent of the population is without health insurance, and there’s 2.5 primary care physicians per 100,000 people — 1.4 more than the national average.
When it comes to housing, Los Alamos has great affordability with the average Los Alamosan only needing to work 26 hours per week to afford housing. Furthermore, 12 percent of the population spends more than 30 percent of their income on monthly housing costs — 12.1 percent below the national average.
However, Los Alamos fell behind in its equity (85.4) and education scores (71.2), which carry the highest weight. Los Alamos scored relatively well in income equity with a 3.72 score in neighborhood income disparities, meaning the county has a smaller income gap than the rest of the country (6.65). However, the data regarding racial and social equality was incomplete or unavailable.
The education scores were also incomplete when it comes to educational achievement, infrastructure and participation for Los Alamosans of different races and social backgrounds. Despite having a lower per-pupil expenditure than the rest of the nation ($11,991 vs $12,061), the high school graduation rate is on par with the national average and 74.9 percent of the population has an advanced degree.
U.S. News Chief Content Officer Kim Castro said this year’s ranking is more important than ever, as the coronavirus pandemic pushes personal and public health top of mind.
“During this unprecedented year, the Healthiest Communities initiative continues to highlight important components of community health while synthesizing the new COVID-19 metrics, providing an in-depth look at the impact of the disease on communities,” Castro said in a written statement.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to the existing disparities in our health care system that have a significant impact on underserved communities,” added CVS Health Chief Community Health Officer Garth Graham, who helped U.S. News compile data.
“Using data from the Healthiest Communities rankings can help create insight on how to better address COVID-19 at the community level, while also helping health care organizations develop solutions to combat the health inequities that have plagued our underserved communities for many years.”