Where a person lives matters to their health.
That's the message of a new report ranking Idaho counties by health. And Blaine County residents have surroundings on their side. The county ranked third in the state out of 42 counties according to a report developed by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which ranked counties using 28 criteria influencing health.
Blaine's southern neighbor, Lincoln County, ranked last out of 42.
How can health differ so greatly between adjacent counties?
The report illustrates that people's health varies from county to county depending on four main factors: availability of quality healthcare, social and economic factors such as measures of education and income, physical environment—including environmental quality and the built environment, and health behaviors. An example of a person's surroundings influencing their behavior is that "people who live in communities with ample park and recreation space are more likely to exercise, which reduces heart disease risk."
The top ranking Idaho county was Latah, near the state's northwest corner and includes the city of Moscow and the University of Idaho. The central-eastern Madison County placed second, its largest town being Rexburg. Fourth and fifth were Franklin and Ada counties. The report didn't include two Idaho counties, Camas and Clark, because of insufficient data.
Of the four previously mentioned health factors, Blaine County ranked highest in health behavior—second. The county ranked 11th in clinical care, third in social and economic factors, and 26th in physical environment. The county scored the poorest in physical environment because of its relatively low access to healthy foods compared to other counties, and its high density of liquor stores.
To tabulate a county's overall score, the institute combined these four health factor rankings with two direct methods of measuring people's health: length of life and quality of life. Blaine ranked sixth in the state in life expectancy and third in quality of life.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said the report is the first to rank the overall health of counties in all 50 states by using a standard formula. The institute has ranked Wisconsin's counties but never the counties of other states.
The institute said the point of the county rankings is a "call to action" because community-based programs and policies affect residents' health. For example, communities with smoke-free laws are less likely to smoke or be exposed to second-hand smoke. Adult smoking was used in the factor of health behaviors.
Jane Smith, chief health official for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said the report promotes a "challenge" to evaluate the unequal distribution of health across Idaho.
"This is a unique effort that provides valuable data about communities that can be a catalyst to improve the health of Idahoans," Smith said.
The report is online at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
Trevon Milliard: firstname.lastname@example.org
Health ranking of Idaho counties: