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New report ranks health status of the counties in Minnesota

WILLMAR -- Ann Stehn already had a fairly good idea of how Kandiyohi County stacks up when it comes to health.

But a new set of county-by-county rankings helps further reinforce where the county is strong and where more work is needed, said Stehn, director of Kandiyohi County Public Health.

"This is really a snapshot of how things are," she said. "This just re-emphasizes those things that are key for the health of the whole community."

The county health rankings were made public Wednesday. They appear in a new national report issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, demonstrating that where people live can have an influence on their overall health.

It's the first time a standard formula has been used to measure health status in all 3,000-some counties in the United States.

The rankings in Minnesota put three area counties in the top 25 percent for health outcomes, a category that includes access to health care and quality of health care. Chippewa County ranked 11th, Swift County was 12th and Kandiyohi County was 15th. Meeker and Lac qui Parle counties were side by side, at Nos. 27 and 28.

Farther down on the list were Pope County, at No. 47; Renville County, 69th, and Yellow Medicine County, 77th.

All but two of Minnesota's 87 counties were ranked in the report.

In the rankings for health factors, Chippewa County appears at No. 25, followed by Kandiyohi County, 35; Pope County, 39; Yellow Medicine County, 41; Lac qui Parle County, 49; Renville County, 66; and Meeker County, 70.

Health factors that were taken into consideration included such things as tobacco and alcohol use, self-reported physical activity, and income and education levels.

"These are all the things that we do know have an impact on health," Stehn said.

The researchers collected their data from a wide range of sources. They combed through U.S. Census data and reviewed statistics from the national Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. They also studied data on poverty rates, unemployment and environmental quality.

Kandiyohi County's rankings were no real surprise to Stehn and her staff.

"We're digesting it," she said of the report. "We're looking at data all the time, but this is the first time we've been ranked."

One finding that especially stood out: Kandiyohi County was listed in the No. 8 spot on specific measures that evaluated the quality of local health care and access to care.

The county fared less well on social and economic measures such as its poverty rank. Here, it ranked in the bottom half of Minnesota counties, at No. 54.

Stehn said the county health rankings will be one of the tools used by Kandiyohi County Public Health for helping shape future priorities. The public health agency is currently working on a long-term initiative to create local policies and environments that support healthy lifestyles.

"Tobacco, alcohol, diet and exercise are some areas we're particularly focusing on right now," she said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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