County health rankings show room for improvement

By KBJR News 1

March 26, 2014 Updated Mar 26, 2014 at 10:15 PM CDT

(NNCNOW.com) --- If you live in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota you're living in one of the least healthy parts of the state.

A new report ranks counties nationwide and shows there's a lot of room to improve the health of Minnesota and Wisconsin residents.

County health leaders say the less than ideal results are a major incentive to jumpstart programs to enhance our health.

Of 87 counties in Minnesota, the Arrowhead region ranks among the worst in overall health performance in the 2014 County Health Rankings report.

"It's sort of a wake-up call for us to say we can do better," Louise Anderson, Director of the Community Health Board said.

One of the regional organizations working to improve overall health is the Duluth Community Garden Program.

It’s goal is to provide better food access to the region. With its 17 community gardens, it's teaching people how to grow nutritious food for themselves.

"I think just having that opportunity for people to connect with their food in a very basic way; you can't get anything that's fresher than something you've just picked," Jahn Hibbs, Executive Director of the Duluth Community Garden.

In the report, counties receive two rankings.

The health outcomes represent how healthy a county is and the health factors represent what influences the health of a region.

In the Arrowhead region there's a great deal of room for improvement.

Cook County is among the best with a ranking of 28th in the state. Koochiching is ranked 55th, Itasca at 63rd, Aitkin at 73rd, St. Louis is ranked 75th, Carlton is ranked at 78th, and Lake County comes in at 82nd.

"There are components that we know are issues in terms of obesity, tobacco use, problems with lack of access to mental health services, dental care and oral health," Anderson said.

With programs like Community Garden, health leaders are putting an emphasis on making the healthy way, the easy way.

"No one community can do these initiatives alone,” Amy Westbrook, Director of Public Health for St. Louis County said. “We can combine resources and make communities across the region healthier."

Counties in Wisconsin also ranked among the worst in the state.

Of the 72 counties in the state, Washburn County ranked among the worst, at 59th, followed by Burnett County at 55th.

Douglas County comes in at 48th, followed by Bayfield County at 43rd and Ashland County at 42nd.

Sawyer County ranked among the best at 36th.

Jennifer Walch
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