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Washington, St. Croix counties earn high marks in health rankings

Area counties ranked highly in their respective states based on more than 30 health-influencing factors and outcomes, according to the ninth annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report out this month.

Washington County fared the strongest, ranking second out of 87 Minnesota counties in health factors and third in health outcomes. In Wisconsin, St. Croix County ranked fifth in the state for health factors and sixth in health outcomes.

The annual report is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. It compares counties within all 50 states on factors such as tobacco use, diet and access to care, as well as health outcomes based on length and quality of life.

Washington County Public Health and Environment Deputy Director David Brummell pointed to farmers markets and the parks and trails system as contributing to active living, social connectedness and nutritious food consumption in the county.

"A lot of those preventive activities really help to create and maintain health," Brummel said. "And I think we're very lucky to be living in a county that supports those type of activities and we have that natural, built-in environment that supports it."

Washington County has traditionally ranked near the top of Minnesota counties in the County Health Rankings report, though Brummel cautioned against comparing year-to-year data because of changes to how rankings are calculated.

Pierce County ranked seventh just behind St. Croix County for health outcomes, but trailed by a wider margin in 20th place for health factors.

"We are pleased to have Pierce and St. Croix Counties rank consistently among the top twenty counties but we recognize that there is still much that can be done to impact health factors and improve health outcomes for all people who live in our communities," St. Croix Health Officer Deb Lindemann said.

"The rankings confirm the results of our last community health needs assessment that identified mental health, obesity and alcohol as the top priorities for Healthier Together to address," added Dianne H-Robinson, interim health officer with Pierce County Health Department.

Dakota County in Minnesota ranked 8th in health factors and 18th in health outcomes, while Goodhue County ranked 33rd in factors and 23rd in outcomes.

Dakota County is actively working to address health behaviors such as smoking, obesity and excessive drinking, according to Public Health Director Bonnie Brueshoff. Strengths in the county include low rate of physical inactivity, a low teen birth rate and access to exercise opportunities.

Poverty has been identified as the top health issue in Goodhue County by a community health assessment committee, according to a news release from the county Health and Human Services Department. The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report suggests an improving trend in the number of children in poverty in Goodhue County.

"This local data is of great value to our community as we collaborate to address health inequities that exist by further identifying real solutions that will ultimately allow everyone in our community the ability to live a healthy thriving life — regardless of their race or income level," said Laura Sand Prink, community impact manager at United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha & Pierce Counties. "We have some work to do, but our community is committed to making progress."

Carver County west of the Twin Cities ranked first in health factors and outcomes in Minnesota, while Ozaukee County north of Milwaukee ranked first in Wisconsin in both categories.

The report can be viewed online at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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