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Wadena County healthier, but still near bottom

Wadena County saw a slight improvement in health outcome rankings from last year in County Health Rankings compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Wadena County was ranked 80 out of 84 counties for health outcomes; three counties were not included in the statistics. Last year, Wadena ranked 84 of 85.

The score was a combination of mortality and morbidity measurements.

In mortality, Wadena was ranked 79 of 84 for having a consistently higher than average rate of premature deaths compared to the rest of Minnesota. Premature deaths, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) press release, are defined as death before reaching age 75.

Wadena ranked 81 of 84 for morbidity, which was calculated by people reporting poor or fair health, poor physical health days, poor mental health days and low birth weight.

Wadena County was ranked 66 of 84 counties for health factors.

Helping the score was the fact that Wadena ranked above average (22 of 84) in health behaviors based on self-reported data from adults.

Wadena was in the top quartile of counties for obesity with 31 percent of adults reporting a Body Mass Index over 30. Physical inactivity (adults over 20 not getting physical activity outside of work) was somewhat higher than average, and the teen birth rate was in the top quarter of counties.

However, Wadena had lower reports of smoking and excessive drinking than surrounding counties. Sexually transmitted infections, judging by the chlamydia rate, were somewhat lower than the median average.

Another aspect of health factors was clinical care, where Wadena ranked 61.

Wadena was in the top quarter of counties for preventable hospital stays among Medicare enrollees.

A relatively low percentage of diabetic Medicare enrollees received HBA1C screening.

Among people under 65, 12 percent were without health insurance, which was slightly higher than the median in Minnesota.

Helping the score was that Wadena County has a lower than average ratio of primary care physicians to the general population, and that a relatively high percentage of female Medicare enrollees received mammography screening.

In social and economic factors, Wadena County rated 71.

The score was weighted down by the county being in the top quarter of counties with a high unemployment rate, a high child poverty rate (24 percent) and a high violent crime rate.

Education helped the score as Wadena had a higher than median rate of high school graduation, and a higher than median rate of adults age 25 to 44 (67 percent) who had completed at least some college. Children in single-parent households were slightly below the median.

Wadena ranked 51 out of 84 for physical environment.

The county was low on air pollution, which helped the ranking.

However, the county had lower than median access to recreational facilities, was in the worst quarter of counties with limited access to healthy foods, and a fairly high ratio (41 percent) of restaurants in the county are fast food restaurants.

In the 2011 version of the survey, Wadena ranked 84 of 85 in health outcomes with only its neighbor Cass County being worse off. It was 52 of 85 for health factors.

In the 2010 survey, Wadena was 82 of 85 in health outcomes. Back then Wadena was ranked above average - 36 out of 85 - in health factors.

The rankings and individual categories may be seen at

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According to the MDH press release, the rankings, launched in 2010, are designed to compare the health of counties within each state; they do not compare counties in one state with counties in another state.

Local health departments in Minnesota already conduct extensive measurements of the health of their communities. The County Health Rankings are an additional tool that highlights the essential role of prevention across Minnesota.

"By reporting on the overall health of people in each county, we can begin to understand how individual health is affected by where people live. The rankings also remind us how important it is to strengthen our prevention efforts across the state," said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota Commissioner of Health. "We spend only a fraction of the amount on prevention that we spend on medical care in this country. We need to do a better job of investing in disease prevention within communities if we really want to improve the health of Minnesotans and get a handle on rising health care costs. This is an especially important message to share during Public Health Week."

Minnesota's Local Public Health Act requires local health departments to conduct a comprehensive assessment and planning process every five years to identify public health challenges and strategies for improving health. "Our local health departments are continuously monitoring the health of their communities and adjusting their strategies to meet local needs," Ehlinger added. "Local public health leadership is one reason why Minnesota consistently ranks as one of the healthiest states in the nation."

"After three years, we know that people across the nation want to know how the health of their county compares to others in their state. This annual check-up helps bring county leaders together to see where they need to improve," said Patrick Remington, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "It's really exciting to see that by this point, the rankings are a call to action to take steps to improve the health of communities."