by REBECCA MEANY
Many Blaine County citizens feel they enjoy the good life. Now, statistics back up their claim.
The third annual "County Health Rankings," released this week by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, places Blaine County in the No. 1 spot among Idaho counties as having the healthiest residents.
According to a news release from the South Central (Idaho) Public Health District, researchers used these measures to assess the level of overall health for Idaho by county: the rate of people dying before age 75, the percentage who report being in fair or poor health, the numbers of days that people report being in poor physical or poor mental health, and the rate of low-birth-weight infants.
The rankings also consider factors that affect people's health within four categories: health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment.
Healthier counties have lower rates in regard to smoking, physical inactivity, teen births, unemployment, children in poverty and violent crime. They have higher levels of education, social support and access to primary-care physicians.
Jason Fry, Wood River YMCA CEO, said he wasn't surprised by Blaine County's ranking among Idaho counties.
"Our community takes great pride in our health and well-being, and it seems to be a priority for many of us living here," he said.
Kerry Samudio, assistant manager and marketing director at Zenergy Health Club, thinks there are many reasons why Blaine County is ranked so high.<<
"Our outdoor activities are endless, for one thing," she said. "That's what attracts so many people here and what keeps us here. We're basically a big outdoor playground."
Residents also have access to myriad indoor recreational and health facilities, whether the weather is bad or sport preferences are of the indoor variety.
"We have so many opportunities to get our bodies in shape," she said.<
The study points out, however, that healthier counties are no more likely than unhealthy counties to have lower rates of excessive drinking or better access to healthy food options.
In Blaine County, the study found that 23 percent of the population engages in excessive drinking, compared with 15 percent in Idaho overall. Eighteen percent of Blaine County's adult population contends with obesity, the study reported.
Fry said even the healthiest county has a long way to go to achieve optimum health.
"Our community is not immune to the health challenges that face the rest of the country," he said. "I wouldn't call an obesity rate of 18 percent a glowing success. Yes, it's better than the U.S. average by a significant amount. However, I believe we're currently facing a health—or lack-of-health—crisis in our country. We still need to develop better means of taking care of our whole selves—body, mind and spirit."
Rounding out the top five healthiest counties are Madison, Latah, Franklin and Valley. The five counties in the poorest health—starting with least healthy—are Shoshone, Payette, Gooding, Bear Lake and Butte.
In 2011 rankings, Blaine County was fourth best, after Madison, Latah and Franklin counties. Blaine County ranked third in 2010.
"I'm excited for the prospect of Blaine County continuing to lead in developing a healthier model for the rest of the country to follow," Fry said.
Rebecca Meany: firstname.lastname@example.org
To view the County Health Rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org
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