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New report ranks healthiest, least healthy counties

Steele County ranks as the healthiest in Minnesota and Cass County is the least healthy, according to a new set of county-by-county health rankings issued Monday.

Kandiyohi County was in the middle -- 35th out of 84 counties for which health data were collected and analyzed.

The nationwide County Health Rankings were prepared by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They cover all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is the third year the report has been issued.

The rankings give a county-by-county picture of the health factors and outcomes that help determine the overall health of the community. They are based on data such as income and education levels, percentage of unemployment, number of residents without health insurance, access to medical care, tobacco use, violent crime rate and more.

New this year are measures that address the number of fast-food restaurants in each county and the percentage of residents who report little or no physical activity. For the first time, the rankings also illustrate premature death trends over 10 years.

Health officials can use the report to help identify which communities are doing well and which need to strengthen their prevention efforts.

Individual health is affected by where people live, said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, Minnesota Commissioner of Health. "We spend only a fraction of the amount on prevention that we spend on medical care in this country. We need to do a better job of investing in disease prevention within communities if we really want to improve the health of Minnesotans and get a handle on rising health costs."

Lac qui Parle County, which ranked as the healthiest in Minnesota in 2011, slipped to 12th place in the new rankings. It was followed in west central Minnesota by Chippewa County, No. 14; Meeker, No. 25; Pope, No. 26; Kandiyohi, No. 35; Swift, No. 40; Redwood, No. 43; Renville, No. 59; and Yellow Medicine, No. 69.

To see the full report, visit www.countyhealthrankings. org.