New county rankings show where we live matters to our health

2017 Health Outcomes - IdahoWe’ve all heard, “You are what you eat,” and the premise behind that saying is our health is significantly influenced by the choices we make, including diet and exercise.

But increasingly, research shows that the economic, social and environmental conditions in the communities where we live, work and play also factor into our ability to make healthy choices and live healthy lifestyles.

In general, living in Idaho provides the environments and opportunities for those healthy choices and lifestyles, from easy access to recreation for exercise, safe communities, family and social support systems and access to clinical care.

That’s according to the 2017 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps (CHRR), which were published today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The annual county-by-county report analyzes multiple databases to evaluate overall health and well-being at the community level. It then ranks individual counties based on a calculation of overall health outcomes based on life expectancy and overall quality of life.

So how do Idaho counties compare to other Idaho counties in this latest survey? Two counties (Camas and Clark) were not ranked in the new study’s health outcomes criteria for highest length of life and quality of life due to not having enough data for a representative sample. Of the remaining 42 Idaho counties (see map), the five highest for 2017 health outcomes in Idaho are:

  1. Valley
  2. Ada
  3. Blaine
  4. Teton
  5. Latah

And the five lowest Idaho counties for 2017 health outcomes are:

  1. Benewah
  2. Shoshone
  3. Lemhi
  4. Custer
  5. Gooding

It’s important to do a deeper dive on the data released to avoid drawing conclusions that are too broad. In several areas, Idaho health factors exceed the national average. And there are factors that may not directly correlate to the size of our individual waistlines but are extremely important to understanding overall health in Idaho communities and areas where special attention or awareness may be needed.  These include the percent of youth who graduate from high school, the crime rate in our neighborhoods, teen pregnancy rates, and preventable hospital says.

All told, the rankings evaluate 35 measures that all play a key role in our individual and community health.  In examining Idaho’s well-being, there are several measures that jump out as either prominently exceeding or falling short of the national median. Here are a few we found in the study:

The Good State Measures
Percent of population with adequate access to locations for physical activity

U.S. Median

Idaho Idaho Counties Range Best County
62% 75% 11% – 92%

Ada – 92%

Preventable hospital stays: Number of hospital stays for ambulatory-care sensitive conditions per 1,000 Medicare enrollees

U.S. Median

Idaho Idaho Counties Range Best County
56 per 1,000 32 16-65

Valley – 16

Percent of children who live in a home headed by a single parent

U.S. Median

Idaho Idaho County Range Best County
32% 25% 11% – 39%

Madison – 11%


The Not-So-Good State Measures
Sexually transmitted diseases: Number of newly diagnosed chlamydia cases per 100,00 population

U.S. Median

Idaho Idaho Counties Range Best County
295 per 100,000 338 40 – 527

Madison – 40

High School Graduation: Percent of 9th-graders who graduate in four years

U.S. Median

Idaho Idaho Counties Range Best County
88% 79% 60% – 94%

Valley –94%

Percent of driving deaths with alcohol impairment

U.S. Median

Idaho Idaho Counties Range Best County
30% 32% 0% – 100%

Tie: Butte, Camas, Madison, Oneida – 0%

Much of the impetus behind the County Health Rankings is to focus attention on deaths that could be prevented. One measurement intended to help communities target high-risk areas and provide support is the measurement of premature mortality, rather than just overall mortality rates in a county. The way the rankings measure premature mortality is to evaluate the years of potential life lost before the age of 75 per 100,000 people, a measurement sometimes known as YPLL-75.

As an example, a person who dies prematurely at age 30 contributes 45 years of premature death to the measurement calculation. A person who dies at age 70 contributes five years. By calculating the number per 100,000 people, the study provides a comparable rate for both large and small counties.

With this measurement, the national years of premature death was calculated at 7,700. Idaho’s rate of years of potential life lost before age 75 was much better at 6,200. The Idaho counties with the lowest rate for premature death in the 2017 rankings include:

  • Valley – 2,900
  • Madison – 3,600
  • Blaine – 4,300
  • Ada – 5,000

The Idaho counties with a higher rate of premature death include:

  • Shoshone – 10,400
  • Benewah – 10,200
  • Clearwater – 10,000
  • Lemhi – 9,400
  • Custer – 9,300

The rankings provide more than data. The website is interactive and highlights areas that counties can explore to improve. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also provides community coaches who will work with county leaders to plan strategies to improve the health of their residents at the local level.

To research your county or other communities around the country, view the full listing of data, rankings, and information about how to improve the health of communities at .

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