How does Idaho measure up?

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Last week’s Coeur d’Alene Press had a well-done two-part series addressing the annual report that compares health, social and environmental factors across counties in every state. Kootenai County had a mixed set of marginal to poor statistics. Reading through the comparatives between our Idaho counties was interesting and made me wonder how the U.S. compares globally. This information also made me wonder: how does Idaho compare with our neighboring states?

I thought I would revisit a handful of the top health stats to get a basic idea on how we measure up. Global health information is getting so good, we now have one of the most granular and comprehensive pictures of health from country all the way down to specifics inside small communities worldwide. Perhaps the unfortunate aspect of this increased understanding within the global health community is it shows the U.S. ranked very low in a number of key health and wellness areas.

Let’s take a look at how we compare with the top 34 developed countries in the world. Here are just a few health categories to get a taste of what I am referring to:

1. The U.S. ranks highest in obesity rates across all developed countries, coming in at 35 percent of the U.S. population. If you add overweight and obese together across all ages, the number comes in closer to 70 percent.

2. It is estimated that the U.S. has the highest rate of diabetes across all developed countries. The U.S. figure shows roughly 30 million adults between the ages of 20 to 80 or roughly 11 percent of the population has either Type-1 or Type-2 diabetes. Collectively, all other developed countries together have 46 million cases.

3. The U.S. ranks 42nd highest in coronary heart disease globally and higher than most of the other developed countries. Keep in mind that worldwide, this ranking of 42nd highest comes from data out of 191 countries surveyed.

4. The U.S. has the highest health care costs per capita in the world and ranks low in almost every category — when measured against 34 of the top developed countries — such as life expectancy and high chronic health issues.

So let me see if I can editorialize just a little on the data. The U.S. has the fastest growing obesity rate in the world with a growing epidemic of diabetic health problems, which makes sense — the two go hand in hand. On top of these two health issues summing up to being a very real health crisis, we have some of the very highest health care costs in the world. It seems pretty intuitive where things are going wrong in the U.S. with our overall approach to health care.

The other interesting fact that I touched on in a recent article in the Living Well magazine is a large number of countries in the world are statistically trending toward healthier populations and improved health care. In many cases, these improving countries are focusing on the systemic health problems that start with changing nutrition and lifestyle, something that is not a primary focus in the U.S. which is obvious from our growing obesity problem.

As for comparing the same few key health statistics in Idaho and how they measure up with our neighboring states, let’s take a look.

1. Idaho comes in at 28.6 percent of the population being obese. Comparing our neighboring states, Montana come in at 23.6 percent, Washington at 26.4 percent and Oregon at a rather high 30.1 percent. As you can see the Pacific Northwest has an average obesity rate of 27.2 percent.

2. When we look at diabetes by population, Idaho has 8.1 percent, Montana 7.9 percent, Washington 8.4 percent and Oregon comes in at 10.7 percent. Collectively, the Pacific Northwest is sitting at a roughly 8.8 percent average. These percentages compares to a national average of roughly 9.3 percent of the total U.S. population.

3. When it comes to cardiovascular disease, regionally it is compared by measuring deaths from this category of heart-related diseases per 100,000 population. Idaho comes in at 229.2 per 100,000, Montana at 227.3 per 100,000, Washington at 213.3 per 100,000 and Oregon at 212.4 per 100,000. These percentages compare to a national average of 192.7 per 100,000 and is recognized as the leading cause of death within our U.S. population.

4. Since our health care costs by state is difficult to qualify for comparative purposes, let’s look at another telling statistic: physical inactivity. The percentage of Idaho adults who are physically inactive is 21.2 percent of our population. Our neighbors come in as follows: Montana at 22.5 percent, Washington at 19.0 percent and Oregon 18.8 percent.

Looking at health and wellness data can be eye-opening. It is easy to compare data and draw conclusions, but often very difficult to develop an action plan around the data to bring positive change to improving health issues. We worry so much about health care costs, yet we don’t look hard enough at the systemic cause of poor health. If we addressed the root cause of our poor health as it ties to nutrition, physical inactivity and preventative health, we would have a much better outcome with our health and health care costs would diminish.

• • •

Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation in Coeur d’Alene.

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