Friday, April 1, 2011

Blaine ranked 4th healthiest Idaho county

Few residents are obese but 1 in 4 drinks too much

Express Staff Writer

Cross-country skiers head down one of the Wood River Valley’s many groomed Nordic trails with their dog. Photo by David N. Seelig

Where a person lives matters to their health.

That's the message of a report ranking Idaho counties by health. Blaine County residents have surroundings on their side. The county ranked fourth out of the state's 42 counties, according to a report developed by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The report ranked counties using 28 criteria influencing health.

Blaine placed third last year, but switched positions with Franklin County this year.

The report illustrates that people's health varies from county to county depending on four main factors: availability of quality health care, 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 people'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."

Blaine scored better than the state's averages in terms of adult smoking and obesity rates. About 15 percent of county residents are obese compared to the state's 1-in-4 average. However, the county ranks poorly in terms of excessive drinking. One out of every four locals reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, or heavy drinking, which is defined as drinking more than two drinks per day on average for men and one per day for women. About 15 percent of Idaho residents excessively drink.

The healthiest of Idaho's 42 ranked counties are clustered in the center and southeast of the state. The least healthy counties are in northern and southern Idaho. The top-ranking Idaho county was the central-eastern Madison County, its largest town being Rexburg; second was Latah, near the state's northwest corner and includes the city of Moscow and the University of Idaho. Third 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. That category includes smoking, diet and exercise, drinking and high-risk sexual behavior. The county ranked fourth in clinical care, an improvement from 11th place last year. It fell to 10th for social and economic factors, down from third last year, and placed sixth in physical environment.

To tabulate a county's overall score, the institute combined those four health factor rankings with two direct methods of measuring people's health: length of life and quality of life. Blaine ranked fourth in the state in life expectancy and fourth in quality of life.

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, it contended that people in 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.

The report is online at

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