Big Shifts On This Year’s Ranking Of Idaho’s Healthiest Counties

Mar 16, 2016

The healthiest counties in Idaho are Valley, Ada and Blaine. The least healthy are Clearwater, Benewah and Owyhee. That’s according to this year’s national county health rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. [For interactive versions of the maps above and to see previous years, click here.]

Valley County, home to McCall and Cascade, is number one for “health outcomes” like how long people live and how they feel while they’re alive. Ada is number two for outcomes but number one for “health factors,” such as access to doctors, low poverty levels and behaviors like smoking. Both Ada and Valley moved up several spots on this year’s ranking. Affluent, outdoorsy Blaine County stays put near the top of the list.

Idaho’s least healthy counties largely match the national trend; they’re rural and poor. The state has one notable exception to that. For several years east Idaho’s Madison County has been the healthiest in the state both for outcomes and factors.

Madison is rural and has high poverty but it’s also home to BYU Idaho, a large private college owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That means an unusually high percentage of its residents are in their early 20s and don’t do things like smoke or drink. But this year Madison fell several spots in both outcomes and factors, though it remains in the top ten.    

Kate Konkle with the University of Wisconsin has been working on the county health ranking project since 2010. She urges caution about reading too much into movement on the list.

“Madison County did drop in the rankings, but when we look at their premature death, that’s actually getting better,” Konkle says. “Other counties likely improved at a faster rate. So we never want to use the rank to decide if we’ve improved or not.”

Konkle says this year in particular changes in the rankings may not necessarily be about changes in health. She says some of their key measures changed this year. For example, a CDC survey they use began including cell phone users for the first time. 

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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