Printed on: March 24, 2013

Madison tops in county health

By Alex Stuckey

The youths of Madison County, coupled with the county's no drinking or smoking culture, creates a healthy environment.

At least that's what Donna Benfield, Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, thinks. And that's why she wasn't surprised that Madison was named the healthiest county in Idaho.

"I'm not surprised, I'm just thankful," Benfield said. "We have a young, active community that exercises a lot."

The rankings were compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Other eastern Idaho counties ranked in the Top 20 included Jefferson, 6; Teton, 11; Custer, 12; Fremont, 13; and Bonneville, 19.

The rankings are based on Medicare and census data, as well as information gleaned from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, among other things.

Factors that contributed to county rankings included tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol consumption and sexual activity.

Only 3 percent of Madison County residents smoke or drink, according to the data.

The Eastern Idaho Public Health District does a lot of outreach, which spokeswoman Mimi Taylor said helps explain the low percentages.

"We go out and educate children about the problems with smoking ... to try to get people to never start smoking," she said. "We also do a lot of outreach regarding sexual activity and STDs."

Other considerations included education, family support and access to clinical care.

The last three categories are what put Madison County above the rest, health district Director Geri Rackow said.

The presence of Brigham Young University-Idaho fosters a younger population, which tends to be healthier, Rackow said.

Eighty-two percent of Madison County residents have had some college education, according to the data.

The county also has a lot of two-parent homes -- only 12 percent of children live in single-parent households, according to the data.

Benfield said 25 percent of the BYU-Idaho students are married with young children.

"I'm just happy to be a part of a healthy county," Benfield said. "This will do a lot of good for people considering where they want to move. I'd rather live in a healthy community."

Reporter Alex Stuckey can be reached at 542-6755.

Not in the top 20

No. 32 – Butte

No. 34 – Bingham

No. 38 – Lemhi

Clark County did not provide data for this study.