Idaho’s vision: Healthy people living and thriving in safe, healthy, and resilient communities

August 29, 2023
Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Division of Public Health

Imagine a world where everyone has an opportunity to live their healthiest life, whether they live in a rural, frontier, or urban area, and regardless of their income. This is the essence of health equity in Idaho – making sure that every person has a fair and impartial chance to be as healthy as possible.

For the Idaho Division of Public Health, health equity is not just a policy, it's a vision that drives us to start and nurture prevention-focused solutions that build and support Idaho communities where everyone has a fair chance at their best health and well-being. We’re focused on giving these communities a hand up.

What is health equity?

Health equity is all about making sure that every person has the same opportunities to achieve an optimal quality of life that accounts for any health issues including mental health. Imagine if everyone had an equal chance at living their healthiest, happiest lives. That's the goal of health equity and is the foundation Idaho Public Health is built on!

Why does it matter?

Different people face different challenges (many outside of their control) when it comes to living a healthy life. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for all communities in Idaho. The issues that make the healthy choice the hard choice are specific.

Where you are born and live, work, and play makes a difference in how healthy you are in Idaho. Your ZIP code is a better predictor of health and longevity than your genetics.

Racial and ethnic diversity also plays a role and has increased in Idaho over the past decade. Idaho is home to five federally recognized tribes, as well as an increasing Hispanic or Latino population and people from other states, countries, and cultures.

Many Idahoans live in areas with limited healthcare facilities, making it harder for them to see a doctor or a dentist. Some Idahoans don’t have much money to spend on nutritious food, exercise equipment or gym memberships, or have the resources or time to participate in sports clubs and after-school activities. Many live in communities with no sidewalks, bike lanes, or other types of physical structures or spaces like parks that make it safe to take a walk, go for a run, or ride a bike. And even more live in communities without public transportation, which makes it harder to go to the grocery store or to medical appointments.

Factors like income, education, housing, access to healthy food, transportation, and quality healthcare are interconnected and play an important role in how healthy we are. This concept is especially relevant here because Idaho is one of the most rural states in the nation. More people live in rural or frontier areas than in cities in our state, making some of these issues even more challenging.

Mapping life expectancy by these different areas shows staggering differences of up to 20 years between the areas with the highest and lowest life expectancies across the state. This shows that your neighborhood can be a powerful factor in health and opportunity.

Idahoans are wonderfully diverse and come from different backgrounds and experiences and have different challenges, but we all deserve the opportunity to live our healthiest lives.

By considering socio-economic, demographic, geographic, and other related issues that make it hard to make a healthy choice, Idaho is working toward creating a healthier future. The goal is to make the HEALTHY choice the EASY choice for everyone.

Elke Shaw-Tulloch is the administrator of the Division of Public Health, and the state’s public health officer. She has worked for the department since 1996 and was promoted to division administrator in 2012.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at 

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