County health behaviors improve

NEW ULM – Brown County data in nationwide 2014 county health rankings showed an improvement over 2013.

The ranking were released Wednesday by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The annual project compares 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 good health and the rate of low-birth weight infants. Health factors include health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors and physician environment.

Research shows that 40 percent of factors creating health are related to social and economic factors, 30 percent are tied to health behaviors, and 10 percent each to physical environment, genes and biology and clinical care, according to Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger.

“Rankings remind us that if our community is healthy, we’re more likely to be healthy,” he added.

Brown County ranked 22nd among 87 Minnesota counties in health outcomes, compared to 21st last year, and 37th in health factors, compared to 31st last year. Health behaviors improved to 70th, compared to 74th last year.

Brown County’s 5.6 percent of low birth weight babies was under the state average of 6.5 per cent and under the U.S. average of 6 percent.

Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz said the figure was 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.

“I’m very happy the adult obesity rate went from 33 percent to 29 percent,” Moritz said. “We’ve got great health initiatives in the county. Hats off to our three medical facilities. I’m very proud of them.”

She said Minnesota is one of the healthiest states in the nation, so ranking high in the state really means something. She added that some health measures change from year to year, while others stay the same, so comparing one year to another isn’t always comparing the same thing.

Brown County adult smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and excessive drinking rates continued to be above the state average.

Moritz said programs like the Heart of New Ulm and Brown County, the Springfield Childhood Wellness Task Force and SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Plan) are implementing interventions that should improve figures over time.

She said law enforcement and the Brown County Underage Substance Abuse Coalition (USAC) are implementing activities to impact youth and adults.

“I’m a bit concerned about excessive drinking. We’ve worked with a lot with youth, but not with adults in the county,” Moritz said.

Nicollet County ranked first in the state in health behaviors, with only 7 percent of adults smoking, less than half the state average. Excessive drinking, alcohol-impaired driving deaths and teen birth rates were all well under the state average.

Nicollet County also ranked high among state counties in other categories-seventh in social and economic factors, ninth in health outcomes, 10th in length of life and 12th in clinical care.

“I’m very proud of Nicollet County. They have some very good programs. We have a different socio-economic situation than they do,” Moritz said.

Other area counties ranking high or low in the state:

Blue Earth County was 10th in clinical care, 19th in health factors, and 22nd in social and economic factors.

Cottonwood County was 22nd in clinical care and 25th in physical environment.

McLeod County was second in health outcomes, fourth in quality of life, and 19th in health behaviors.

Redwood County was second in quality of life and seventh in health outcomes, but 69th in health behaviors and 78th in clinical care.

Renville County was 81st in health outcomes, 82nd in quality of life, 64th in health factors and 60th in health behaviors and social and economic factors.

Sibley County was 27th in length of life, 33rd in health outcomes, and 68th in clinical care.

Watonwan County was third in quality of life, 78th in health factors, 77th in health behaviors, 72nd in social and economic factors and 66th in clinical care.

County health rankings are available at

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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