Health & Fitness

How healthy is Idaho? Boise area ranks high — but it’s not all good news

Volunteers gather petition signatures to add Medicaid expansion onto the November ballot

Volunteers Laurie Durocher and Paula Davis, right, gather signatures from registered voters in a Nampa neighborhood Saturday, April 7, 2018. They are looking for people in support of adding a Medicaid expansion initiative onto the November ballot.
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Volunteers Laurie Durocher and Paula Davis, right, gather signatures from registered voters in a Nampa neighborhood Saturday, April 7, 2018. They are looking for people in support of adding a Medicaid expansion initiative onto the November ballot.

Ada County residents are the healthiest in all of Idaho, with fewer premature deaths and people in poor health than both the state and national average.

That’s the finding of a study published last week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The 50-state study ranked every county by two metrics, health outcomes and health factors.

Health outcomes measure premature deaths, percentage of people in poor or fair health, the number of poor physical and mental health days taken and babies with low birth weight.

Health factors measure health behaviors, clinical care, the physical environment and other social and economic conditions.

So what’s behind the numbers for Ada County and Boise?

It had a very low rate of premature deaths. The county recorded 5,000 years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 people, well below the statewide average of 6,300 years and better than the average top U.S. performers of 5,400 years.

With 12 percent of Ada County residents in poor or fair health in 2018, Ada County was in line with the statewide average and slightly better the average for top U.S. counties.

Residents in Ada County took, on average, slightly more than three “poor physical health” days and just under an average of four “poor mental health” days. That puts Ada County loosely on par with both the rest of the state and the healthiest counties in the country.

Ada County also has lower rates of smoking, adult obesity, physical inactivity, teen births and preventable hospital stays than other Idaho counties and most other counties in the country.

While the study found positive trends in many counties, that good news wasn’t universal.

“The data show that, in counties everywhere, not everyone has benefited in the same way from these health improvements,” the study found. “There are fewer opportunities and resources for better health among groups that have been historically marginalized, including people of color, people living in poverty, people with physical or mental disabilities, LGBTQ persons, and women.”

The study authors wrote that many of the differences in opportunity were “the result of policies and practices at many levels that have created deep-rooted barriers to good health, such as unfair bank lending practices, school funding based on local property taxes, and discriminatory policing and prison sentencing.”

In Idaho, that disparity often falls along racial lines.

While around 69 percent of overall Idahoan households own their homes, that number falls to 36 percent among black people in the Gem State.

While white residents recorded the lowest childhood poverty numbers in Idaho, around 14 percent, 85 percent of black children in Idaho live below the poverty line.

“The collective effect is that a fair and just opportunity to live a long and healthy life does not exist for everyone. Now is the time to change how things are done,” the report concluded.

The full study can be found at http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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