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We're a healthy corner of Minnesota

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Peter Giesen

Southeast Minnesota again posted exemplary marks in the county health rankings, which are published annually by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In the 2017 report released this morning , Houston, Wabasha and Olmsted counties all finished in the top 10 of Health Outcomes, which measures the length and quality of life. Six of the eight counties in the Post Bulletin's coverage area were ranked in the top 23 after six of eight placed in the top 17 in 2016.

In 2015, just three of the eight local counties were ranked in the top 20. Minnesota has 87 counties.

Olmsted County ranked eighth in Health Outcomes and first in Health Factors for the fourth straight year. Mayo Clinic's presence in Rochester plays a big role in claiming the top spot, which factors in clinical care (1st), social and economic factors (12th), social behaviors (6th) and the physical environment (22nd).

Other factors that also play a role in health quality include housing, education, jobs, access to healthy foods and more, according to the report. Olmsted scored particularly high — 96th percentile — in "access to exercise opportunities."

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"The county health rankings provide an opportunity to look at health in the broadest terms and reinforce the local work done as part of the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA)," said Olmsted County Public Health Director Pete Geisen. "The No. 1 rank in Health Factors for Olmsted County is something the entire community can be proud of. Many organizations have worked tirelessly over the last 20 years to address smoking rates, physical activity, nutrition, and alcohol use.

"However, despite being in the 90th percentile overall every year since the rankings began in 2010, we recognize there are areas that still need improvement and continued investments in prevention are needed to assure a healthy community 20 years from now. Top local priorities identified by the community in the CHNA are: mental health, obesity, motor vehicle injuries (especially among teens), vaccine preventable diseases, and financial stress/homelessness. In addition, health disparities exist in our County. We need to continue to understand, identify and address institutional and systemic barriers that keep everyone from attaining their highest level of health."

Two local counties continue to lag behind in both Health Factors and Health Outcomes. Winona County ranks No. 46 and 42 in the two metrics, while Mower finished No. 53 and No. 76, respectively. Mower finished 78th in physical environment, 76th in health behaviors, 68th in social and economic factors, and 60th in clinical care.

Carver County was deemed the healthiest county in Minnesota, while Mahnomen had the poorest health.

The annual report also introduced a new metric this year that focused on young people between 16-24 years old who are not in school or working. Nearly 5 million fit those qualifications across the country, representing 1 out of 8 in that age group.

The rates of youth disconnectedness are higher in rural counties (21.6 percent) than in urban counties (13.7 percent), according to the report.

"Young adults who are not in school or working represent untapped potential in our communities and our nation that we can't afford to waste," said Dr. Julie Willems Van Dijk, director of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. "Communities addressing issues such as poverty, unemployment, and education can make a difference creating opportunities for all youth and young adults."

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Know your numbers

In 2017, five southeastern Minnesota counties ranked in the top 20 in the state for health outcomes, and four ranked in the top 20 for health factors. These are the counties listed in order of their state ranking. Their ranking for the previous year, 2016, is listed in parentheses.

Health Outcomes, 2017

6. Houston (5)

9. Wabasha (15)

10. Olmsted (8)

15. Dodge (14)

17. Fillmore (9)

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23. Goodhue (17)

46. Winona (41)

53. Mower (53)

Health Factors, 2017

1. Olmsted (1)

6. Dodge (11)

13. Wabasha (7)

15. Houston (19)

21. Fillmore (27)

35. Goodhue (37)

42. Winona (41)

76. Mower (78)

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