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Whatcom County's the perfect place to run, bike and paddle, but how healthy are we?

Here’s how Whatcom County stacks up on health

New health statistics compare Whatcom County's overall health to the national average.
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New health statistics compare Whatcom County's overall health to the national average.

We're pretty healthy in Whatcom County, aren't we?

We're well known for our outstanding biking — both mountain and on the roads — have numerous hiking and running trails and live in the perfect place for paddle sports and just about any other activity you can dream up. When the sun is out, it's hard to find anybody indoors.

And have you seen the number of farmer's markets in the area and how many aisles of organic and healthy foods are available in our grocery stores?

If that wasn't enough, people actually move to the area because of the relatively high quality of health care we have for a community this size.

But just how healthy is Whatcom County?

A new, comprehensive study released by U.S. News and World Report says we're doing pretty good, but maybe not quite as healthy as you would think.

Whatcom County was ranked the 374th most healthy community in the United States in the 2018 Healthiest Community rankings.

Really — 374th?

That's outside the top 10 percent of the nearly 3,000 counties that were studied.

Well, Whatcom received an overall score of 68.6, which was better than the averages for both Washington state (59.2) and the United States (52.3). Among counties in Washington state, Whatcom ranked seventh behind San Juan (90th), Jefferson (170th), Thurston (220th), Lincoln (255th), Island (257th) and King (319th).

The rankings were created in collaboration with the Aetna Foundation, an independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna, while the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems performed the data collection and analysis.

Virginia's Falls Church city, outside Washington, D.C., was ranked the healthiest community in the country, ahead of the Denver metro area's Douglas County at No. 2 and Broomfield County at No. 3.

So how was Whatcom County ranked just 374th and not included among the top 50 in its "urban, high-performing" peer group?

The study looked at 10 categories to rank each community, giving each a score out of 100 based on a number of different factors in each category.

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Under action taken Tuesday, smoking and vaping are now prohibited in Thurston County parks. The Bellingham Herald file Staff

Population Health: Whatcom County received a score of 75 in the highest-weighted category, which assessed access to care, healthy behaviors, prevalence of health conditions, mental health and resulting health outcomes. Of note, Whatcom County had:

▪ A life expectancy of 81.0 (national median: 77.9).

▪ A 14.1-percent smoking rate (national median: 17.3 percent).

▪ An 11.7-percent rate of people without health insurance (national median: 12.9 percent).

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The Procession of the Species parade marches down Commercial Street on Saturday afternoon May 7, 2016, in Bellingham. For The Bellingham Herald Paul Conrad

Equity: Whatcom County received a score of 48 in the category, which assessed income, education, health and social equity to determine how well people could afford to live productive, healthy lives. Of note, Whatcom County had:

▪ A 0.26 segregation index score on a zero (high segregation) to one scale (national mean: 0.41).

▪ A 0.27 racial disparity index score in education attainment on a zero (low disparity among racial groups) to one scale (national median: 0.15).

▪ A 0.02 premature death disparity index score on a zero (low difference in premature death rates among racial groups) to one scale (national median: 0.1).

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Larrabee Elementary School in Bellingham, shown here April 9, 2013, was built in 1920. The Bellingham Herald file Staff

Education: Whatcom County received a score of 50 in the category weighing communities' education systems and the level of education of its residents. Of note, Whatcom County:

▪ Spent $11,547 per pupil (national median: $11,430).

▪ Had an 80.3 percent high school graduation rate (national median: 87.0 percent).

▪ Had 43.2 percent of the population with an advanced degree (national median: 27.3 percent).

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Trainer T.J. Cannon leads servers in a cheer during training at the new Buffalo Wild Wings at Bellis Fair Mall Oct. 22, 2014. The Bellingham Herald file Staff

Economy: Whatcom County received a score of 57 in the category that measured employment, opportunity and wealth. Of note, Whatcom County had:

▪ A 16.0 percent poverty rate (national median: 16.0 percent).

▪ A median household income of $53,145 (national median: $45,114).

▪ A 6.0 unemployment rate (national median: 5.0).

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New housing project of June Street in the Cordata neighborhood of Bellingham, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. The Bellingham Herald file Staff

Housing: Whatcom County received a score of 48 in the category that weighed availability, affordability and quality of homes. Of note, Whatcom County had:

▪ A 1.3 percent vacant houses rate (national median: 2.6 percent).

▪ A negative 2.4 percent change in housing value (national median: plus 1.8 percent).

▪ 48.0 work hours needed to pay for affordable housing (national median: 42.5).

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Growing Washington was one of the vendors at Bellingham Farmers Market in 2015. For The Bellingham Herald Kjell Redal

Food and nutrition: Whatcom County received a score of 72 in the category that tracked availability and use of heath foods as well as the prevalence of chronic diseases linked to poor nutrition. Of note, Whatcom County:

▪ Had a 22.9 percent obesity rate (national median: 31.0 percent).

▪ Had a 7.4 percent diabetes rate (national median: 7.4 percent).

▪ Had 5.0 local food outlets per 100,000 people (national median: 4.9).

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Mount Baker overlooks Bellingham on Jan. 3, 2018. The Bellingham Herald file Staff

Environment: Whatcom County received a score of 61 in the category that assesses the health of a community's natural surroundings, including air and water quality, access to parks and natural amenities and environmental risks. Of note, Whatcom County had:

▪ 24.9 percent of the population within a half mile of a park (national median: 14.6).

▪ A 61.2 in 10,000 probability of contracting cancer from air toxic health risks (national median: 38.3).

▪ 2.0 extreme heat days per year (national median: 8.0).

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A Bellingham police officer high fives children as he leads the annual Blossomtime Parade down Cornwall Avenue on Saturday afternoon May 27, 2017, in downtown Bellingham. For The Bellingham Herald Paul Conrad

Public safety: Whatcom County received a score of 67 in the category that rewards communities with low crime rates, few deaths tied to motor vehicle crashes and robust first response teams. Of note, Whatcom County:

▪ Spent $316 per capita on police and fire protection (national median: $239).

▪ Had 0.09 percent of its population serving as first responders (national median: 0.07 percent).

▪ Had a 208.6 per 100,000 violent crime rate (national median: 200.0).

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Volunteer election worker Carol Lord takes ballots from voters at the drive-thru ballot drop off at the Whatcom County Courthouse South Parking Lot, 201 Grand Ave. in Bellingham Nov. 5, 2012. The Bellingham Herald file Staff

Community vitality: Whatcom County received a score of 62 in the category that assessed the stability and social cohesion of the community by measuring areas, such as population growth and voter participation. Of note, Whatcom County had:

▪ A 69.9 percent voter participation rate (national median: 58.5 percent).

▪ A 63.1 percent home ownership rate (national median: 72.7 percent).

▪ A 15.5 percent net migration rate, which is the percent of the community that moved into or out of the community (national median: 1.0 percent).

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Southbound I-5 traffic hits snow south of Blaine Dec. 5, 2016. The Bellingham Herald file Staff

Infrastructure: Whatcom County received a score of 73 in the category that gauges how well residents can make use of their community, including walkability, commute times and internet access. Of note, Whatcom County had:

▪ 4.3 percent of its workers commuting 60 or more minutes (national median: 6.4 percent).

▪ A walkability index score of 7.34 on a scale of one to 20 (national median: 6.10).

▪ 99.3 percent of households with internet access (national median: 73.6 percent).

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