Brown County shines in most health rankings

NEW ULM – Brown County data was mostly favorable in the 2013 County Health Rankings released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The annual rankings compare the health of counties in each state, ranking health outcomes and health factors.

Health outcomes include the rate of people dying before age 75, the percentage of people in fair to poor health and rate of low-birth weight infants. Health factors include health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.

Brown County ranked 21st overall in health outcomes among 87 Minnesota counties and 31st in health factors.

Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz said the county has a history of favorable health outcomes (mortality and morbidity) rankings.

“Our shining star under morbidity is our percentage of low-birth rate babies, under the state average,” Moritz wrote in her report to Brown County commissioners to be presented Tuesday, March 26. “This is influenced in part by good pre-natal care through health care providers and family home visits that public health provides for moderate to high risk pregnant women and their families.”

Moritz said the county historically ranks high in clinical care and physical environment. She cited three quality county health care clinics that strive to provide best practice care including diabetic and mammography screening, plus public health support with social marketing around screening importance.

She said the county is blessed to have a number of grocery stores including those in Sleepy Eye and Springfield plus access to recreational facilities that help create favorable physical environment scores.

Moritz noted that Brown County has a fine particulate matter rating above the state average that brought the county’s physical environment score down overall.

Areas she said need improvement are health behaviors, with the county ranking 74th in the state. The county obesity and physical inactivity rates remained above the state average, according to 2010 data.

“We have programs in place working in these issues-the Heart of New Ulm and Brown County, the Springfield Childhood Wellness Task Force, and SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Plan),” she stated. “Interventions we are implementing are making improvements, but it takes time to see significant data changes. I hope to see that number improve in the coming years.”

Moritz said Brown County continues to have a motor vehicle crash death rate above the state average and an excessive drinking rate that climbed from 21 percent in last year’s report to 23 percent this year.

“We’re working to address excessive alcohol consumption through activities implemented by the Brown County Underage Substance Abuse Coalition (USAC) in addition to local law enforcement efforts,” Moritz added. “USAC is designed to impact youth but involves the adults in their lives also. Excessive alcohol use was identified as a priority community health issue when New Ulm Medical Center completed its Community Health Assessment in late 2012.”

Moritz said the county’s excessive drinking rate came from data from a Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey which was an average from 2005 to 2011.

Brown County data in the latest report showed 5.5 percent unemployment, under the 6.4 percent state average, 12 percent children in poverty (state average 15 percent) and a violent crime rate of 47, under the state average of 248 and national average of 66.

Nicollet County ranked 16th overall among 87 state counties with a slightly lower adult obesity rate than Brown County, and lower physical inactivity, excessive drinking, motor vehicle crash death and teen birth rates, but a higher violent crime rate.

Sibley County ranked 44th overall among 87 state counties with lower rates of motor vehicle crash deaths, diabetic and mammography screening but higher rates of teen births, uninsured medical care and children in poverty.

Carver County had the state’s highest overall ranking, followed by Steele, Waseca, Dodge, Scott, Winona, McLeod, Yellow Medicine Nobles and Washington counties.

National trends in the report show child poverty rates have not improved since 2000 with more than one in five children living in poverty. Violent crime decreased by almost 50 percent over the past 20 years.

Counties where people don’t live as long or feel as well have the highest rates of smoking, teen births, physical inactivity and more preventable hospital stays.

Teen birth rates are more than twice as high in the least healthy counties, than in the healthiest counties.

For more information, visit www.countyhealthrankings/org

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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