The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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March 23, 2013

Counties rise in health measure

WASECA — When Waseca County vaulted to near the top of county health rankings in the state last week, Public Health Director Cheri Lewer was thrilled.

She was also poring over the details to find spots where the county isn’t doing so well.

“We were very pleased to be No. 3 in the state. It demonstrates the corroborations we have with the community have really helped,” Lewer said.

The county jumped from No. 24 last year.

But one sub-category in the rankings is some cause for concern. The county ranked 50th of the 87 counties when it came to “health behavior.” That includes a wide range of indicators such as obesity and smoking rates.

“The areas we see needing work on is obesity, lack of physical activity and teen pregnancy.”

The county a couple of years ago took part in the Statewide Health Improvement Program, which Lewer said gave residents a good start on community health improvement. Public Health worked with schools and worksites on tobacco reduction and healthy living and eating.

Public Health also has recently been focusing on pregnant women. “We had fewer low-birth weight babies, which gives kids a great start.”

Lewer said public education has helped drive home the idea that you are where you live.

“I think people realize the health of their community has a direct link to their own health.”

The annual rankings were released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Five of the nine area counties in south-central Minnesota ranked in the top 25 counties in the state in “health factors,” which includes a wide array of measures ranging from adult obesity to sexually transmitted infections to the violent crime rate and access to health care.

Blue Earth County ranked 25, up some from 29 last year and Nicollet County was 16, up from 18.

Watonwan County ranked the lowest of area counties, coming in at 59, but up from 68 last year.

Most of the counties in the bottom of the rankings are from northern Minnesota with Cass County ranking last in this year’s report.

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