How healthy are people in Whatcom County? It depends on where you live

A cyclist heads down Douglas Road near Ferndale, Washington during the 2013 Tour de Whatcom.
A cyclist heads down Douglas Road near Ferndale, Washington during the 2013 Tour de Whatcom. The Bellingham Herald file

Residents of Bellingham and Lynden are less likely to die from the things that most often kill us, according to a report on the health of different communities in Whatcom County.

Bellingham had lower rates of death caused by heart disease, stroke, motor vehicles and cancer than county averages.

In Lynden, there were lower rates of deaths from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease than averages for Whatcom County.

Those were among the findings of the Community Health Snapshots report released this week by the Whatcom County Health Department.

The report was an extension of the 2018 Community Health Assessment that came out in July, which delved into the health of county residents and compared their health to those of the rest of Washington state.

The health assessment took a broad measure of the entire community’s health by looking at social and economic factors, physical environment, health behaviors and health care.

Whatcom County health officials said then that they would delve deeper into data in order to assess the health of different parts of the county. To do so, they broke the county into geographic areas defined by school district boundaries.

They also talked to residents and service providers about what affects health in their communities.

“These community health snapshots continue to develop our understanding of health across Whatcom County,” Katie Stanford, assessment specialist for the Whatcom County Health Department, told The Bellingham Herald Friday in an email interview.

“Rather than revealing surprising information, the data and community conversations confirmed what we have been learning — that where you live affects your health,” Stanford said.

Here are some of the key snapshots of the public health of various communities, as defined by school districts.

Smoking during pregnancy

Lynden had, by far, the lowest number of women who smoked during pregnancy, at roughly 3.9 percent. That’s compared to the Whatcom County average of 8.9 percent.

By comparison, the rates of pregnant women in Blaine, Ferndale and Mount Baker who smoked were much higher at 12.7 percent, 12.5 percent and 12.6 percent respectively.

Mount Baker encompasses east Whatcom County including Acme, Deming, Glacier, Kendall, Maple Falls, Peaceful Valley, Nugent’s Corner, Van Zandt and the Nooksack Reservation, according to the report.

Health care

Bellingham had the highest rate of adults with health insurance.

A total of 13.6 percent of Whatcom County residents don’t have health insurance, compared to 11.6 percent in Bellingham.

People who don’t have health insurance are less likely to get preventive care and help for serious health conditions and chronic diseases, according to the Community Health Snapshots.

Fewer adults in Mount Baker and Nooksack Valley had health insurance than the county overall.

A total of 19.8 percent of adults in Mount Baker don’t have health insurance while 22.2 percent of adults don’t in Nooksack Valley.

Nooksack Valley includes Everson, Sumas and Nooksack and other smaller communities within that school district’s boundaries.

Poverty, income

A total of 19.5 percent of Bellingham residents live in poverty — a rate that was three times higher than that of Lynden and Meridian.

The Bellingham number also was higher than the Whatcom County average of 16 percent.

College students who live off-campus in Bellingham do have some impact on the poverty rate, but public healths officials said they don’t know how much.

Meridian covers an unincorporated area north of Bellingham that includes the community of Laurel, according to the report. Some residents in the Meridian School District said they reside in Lynden, Bellingham or Ferndale.

Meanwhile, the median household income in Bellingham, at $50,732, also was lower than the average in Whatcom County.

Ferndale and Lynden residents made more money. The median household income for those communities were $60,582 and $63,397 respectively.

Both sets of data matter because income and poverty are linked to health and quality of life, the report states.

Other concerns

The report also delved into demographic data, revealing that 20.8 percent of residents in the Nooksack Valley School District were Hispanic/Latino, well above the 8.8 percent average for Whatcom County.

In Nooksack, 18.7 percent of households spoke a language other than English, above the 12.4 percent of households in Whatcom County.

As for households with children, Nooksack had the highest at 41.9 percent, which was above the Whatcom County average of 27 percent.

Bellingham was below the county average, with 23.1 percent of households with children.

Knowing such population trends help them understand the needs of different communities, public health officials said.

Stanford also touched on the specific needs of the rural parts of the county.

“For rural residents, the lack of employment opportunities, grocery stores, health care and social services, as well as limited transportation options to access such amenities, have a negative impact on quality of life and individual health,” she said.

Whatcom County residents also had similar worries.

“We also heard shared concerns throughout Whatcom County communities about mental and behavioral health, as well as homelessness and housing affordability, availability and quality,” Stanford said. “Particularly in smaller communities, we heard that helping one another is a community value.”

The health department will use the data and work with the communities to figure out what can be done about the top health concerns.

Read the reports

Find the 2018 Community Health Assessment for Whatcom County at http://whatcomcounty.us/2018CHA. It’s also where the Community Health Snapshots can be found.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.