A picture of health
Dodge, Olmsted and Wabasha counties all ranked high in this year’s County Health Rankings from theRobert Wood Johnson Foundation. Olmsted County is in the top quartile for the ninth year in a row.
Dodge, Olmsted and Wabasha counties all ranked high in this year’s County Health Rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation .
Olmsted County is in the top quartile for the ninth year in a row. However, it moved back in both of the categories that combine to determine the rankings — Health Factors and Health Outcomes — since 2017.
In 2017, Olmsted County ranked eighth in Health Outcomes (the overall health of a county now, takes length and quality of life into account) and first in Health Factors (what influences the health of a county and will affect it in the future).
In 2018, Olmsted County ranks 14th in Health Outcomes and third in Health Factors.
Jeff Spegman, a community coach for County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, said Olmsted is now ranked lower in health behaviors than it was, compared to other counties.
"Health behaviors is a big part of the measure, it’s 30 percent of the formula we use for the health factors composite ranking," he said.
This year’s report indicates that Olmsted County moved from sixth to ninth place in health behaviors — the measures of physical activity, adult smoking and obesity, and other lifestyle choices that help determine overall health. Trend boxes indicate that the rate of sexually transmitted infections and physical inactivity are up in Olmsted County — both of which are numbers that should be kept low.
As in 2017, Olmsted County was ranked first in Clinical Care, thanks to the presence of Mayo Clinic.
"That’s great, and everyone in the community and certainly at Mayo should be proud — but it’s important to note that the reality is, if health was all about clinical care, you guys would be one … across the board," Spegman said. "We only take care of our health in a hospital setting if you’re already sick."
Spegman pointed out that Olmsted County is ranked 12th in Length of Life, but 26th in Quality of Life in the Health Outcomes section, as well — an odd gap between those two measures.
Olmsted County’s rankings are all high compared to the state averages, Spegman said, and moving down in the rankings does not mean that the entire county is less healthy than it was a year ago.
It’s also good to note that while health outcomes work as a snapshot of a county’s health now, the health factors are what is likely to drive its numbers in the future — and Olmsted County is ranked third in those.
"One thing you have to remember when you look at the rankings, as opposed to measures, the rankings — when you go backwards in Olmsted County, it could simply be because other counties are doing a better job," he said. "It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re losing ground yourself, it means you’re losing ground against other Minnesota counties."
Race and place
This year, the county health rankings took a closer look at the impact of race on the rankings.
All across the U.S., racial disparities exist in health care and health factors. The gaps between the health of white populations and those of racial minorities vary from place to place, but they are always present.
"You would see gaps everywhere, but they are more pronounced in some places," Spegman said. "It’s not strictly a function of how large the population is, but I think what we’re finding around the country is that people are more able or willing to discuss these issues — which are tough issues — in communities where there’s a larger percentage of the population."
This year, the county health rankings called attention to specific racial differences in health factors and outcomes.
"Poverty limits opportunity and increases the chance of poor health," read a press release from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. "Children in poverty are less likely to have access to well-resourced and quality schools, and have fewer chances to be prepared for living wage jobs."
In Minnesota, an average of 13 percent of children live in poverty, according to the 2018 study. The U.S. poverty rate is 20 percent.
However, there is, again, a huge racial disparity. White children in Minnesota average 8 percent living in poverty, but about 40 percent of American Indian/Alaskan Native children do.
According to the study, about 5.7 percent of Olmsted County’s population is African-American. The state average is 6 percent.
According to the study, about 10 percent of Olmsted County’s children live in poverty. Only about 5 percent of white children in Olmsted County live in poverty, though. About 27 percent of Hispanic children and 56 percent of black children do.
Olmsted County’s low birth weight percent is 6 percent. The breakdown puts white children at 5 percent, though, and black and Hispanic babies at 7 percent.
Birth weight is the least of the disparities noticeable in Olmsted County. The average for teen births is 15 percent overall — 12 percent white, 26 percent black and 40 percent Hispanic.
"We’re seeing those kinds of gaps all over the country," Spegman said. "It really does seem like that story that is being told nationally is accurate in Olmsted county as well."
Six of the eight counties in the Post Bulletin’s coverage area were ranked in the top 23 in 2017. Six of eight placed in the top 17 in 2016. Spegman said to bear in mind that while Health Outcomes measures the health of a county now, the Health Factors are likely to determine how it does in the future. A lower Health Factors number can mean that "things don’t look good down the road," he said.
Here’s how the rest did in 2018.
Dodge: Dodge County is the overall fourth-healthiest county in Minnesota, according to the 2018 rankings. It was ranked 4th in Health Outcomes and 6th in Health Factors.
Wabasha: Ranked 11th in Health Outcomes and 10th in Health Factors.
Houston: Ranked 19th in Health Outcomes and 15th in Health Factors.
Goodhue: Ranked 23rd in Health Outcomes and 33rd in Health Factors.
Winona: Ranked 31st in Health Outcomes and 25th in Health Factors.
Steele: Ranked 36th in Health Outcomes and 46th in Health Factors.
Mower: Ranked 56th in Health Outcomes and 67th in Health Factors.
Fillmore: Ranked 8th in Health Outcomes and 19th in Health Factors.