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Four area counties rank in bottom 10, least healthiest in Minnesota

Four area counties were in the bottom 10 — Morrison, Wadena, Mille Lacs and Cass

How healthy are area counties and how much does that affect individual health?

A nationwide report ranking the health of counties in 50 states is providing a look at existing health factors with a hope of starting conversations on how to make improvements.

The report shows a wide range of health status among Minnesota counties. Crow Wing County ranked the highest in the seven-county area. Four area counties were in the bottom 10 — Morrison, Wadena, Mille Lacs and Cass County.

“By reporting on the overall health of people in each county, we can begin to understand how individual health is affected by where people live,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger in a news release. “The rankings remind us that we live in communities, and that if our community is healthy, we’re more likely to be healthy ourselves.”

The rankings, launched in 2010, are designed to compare the health of counties. Ehlinger said research that has looked at what factors create health shows that 40 percent is related to social and economic factors, 30 percent is tied to health behaviors, 10 percent by physical environment, 10 percent by genes and biology and 10 percent by clinical care.

Rankings for area counties

Health behaviors include: tobacco use; diet and exercise looking at obesity rates, access to exercise opportunities; along with alcohol and drug use and sexual activity, such as sexually transmitted infections and teen births.

Clinical care includes access to care and its quality looking at uninsured and numbers of physicians, dentists and mental health providers. Quality of care looks at preventable hospital stays, diabetic screening and mammography screening.

Social and economic factors look at education, employment, income and poverty, family and social support and community safety through violent crime reports and injury deaths.

The physical environment looks at air and water quality, housing and transit.

Out of 87 counties in Minnesota, area counties were ranked:

■ Crow Wing County — 48.

■ Todd County — 53.

■ Aitkin County — 73.

■ Morrison County — 80.

■ Wadena County — 83.

■ Mille Lacs County — 85.

■ Cass County — 86.

The County Health Rankings report said the “program helps communities identify and implement solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.” The goal is to help create a roadmap to show people what they can do to create healthier places to “live, learn, work and play.”

How ranks are determined

This is the fifth year of County Health Rankings, prepared by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The project ranks counties by overall health using a standard formula to measure the health status of the counties’ residents and how long they live. Counties are ranked in two categories: health outcomes and health factors.

Health outcomes include the rate of collective number of years of life lost from people dying before age 75, the percentage of people who report being in fair or poor health and the rate of low birth-weight infants.

Health factors include health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.

• Aitkin County ranked 73rd in health outcomes and 80th in health factors.

• Cass County ranked 86th in health outcomes, 84th in health factors.

• Crow Wing County ranked 48th in health outcomes and 51st in health factors.

• Mille Lacs County ranked 85th in health outcomes and 83rd in health factors.

• Morrison County ranked 80th health outcomes and 75th in health factors.

• Todd County ranked 53rd in health outcomes and 77 in health factors.

• Wadena County ranked 83rd in health outcomes and 79th in health factors.

The top 10 counties in the state were, starting with No. 1: Carver, McLeod, Waseca, Steele, Nobles, Yellow Medicine, Redwood, Washington, Nicollet and Dodge. Last on the list, Mahnomen County.

For the wider region, the highest ranked county was Stearns at 19, Douglas at 23, Sherburne at 26.

Advancing conversation

Local health departments in Minnesota already conduct extensive measurements of the health of their communities. The County Health Rankings are an additional tool that highlights the essential role of prevention across Minnesota.

“These rankings can help advance the conversation between communities and local health departments, which are constantly adjusting strategies to meet local needs,” Ehlinger said. “Local public health leadership is one reason why Minnesota consistently ranks among the healthiest states in the nation.”

Minnesota has 50 Community Health Boards, 25 of which are stand-alone county boards, 21 multi-county or city-county boards, and four independent city boards. Community Health Boards are primarily funded with local tax revenues but also receive some state funding. More information about Minnesota’s local health departments can be found at

The county health rankings are available at

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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