Le Sueur and Nicollet County rank among the state’s top 20 counties for healthy outcomes, according to a new report.
Carver County is ranked as Minnesota’s healthiest and Cass County is at the bottom of the list.
The 2013 County Health Rankings were released Wednesday by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Le Sueur County is ranked No. 11 and Nicollet County is ranked No. 16 among Minnesota’s 87 counties, while nearby Waseca County ranked No. 3.
Le Sueur County Director of Public Health Cindy Shaughnessy said she considers the rankings like a report card and believes the county’s health outcomes are “pretty good.”
“(The report) reflects that where we live matters,” Shaughnessy said, “and the health of our community depends on many things, not just access to medical care.”
The report consists of two components: Health outcomes and health factors. Le Sueur ranked No. 11 in health outcomes, which includes low birth weight and premature death and ranked No. 39 in health factors, which includes children in poverty, excessive drinking and adult smoking.
“If I look at the report in terms of health factors, we went up,” Shaughnessy said. “One thing that makes me very happy is that our adult smoking went from 16 percent to 14 percent.”
One of the factors Shaughnessy said she can’t control is how many primary care physicians and dentists are available within the county.
In Minnesota the population to primary care physicians ratio is 1,140 to 1 and in Le Sueur County, it’s 4,616 to 1.
“We’re a small community but that doesn’t mean people don’t have access to care,” Shaughnessy said.
Le Sueur, Waseca and Nicollet counties lost Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) funding in 2012 when funding was cut by 70 percent. The SHIP grant helped implement healthy snacks in schools and anti-smoking efforts and was designed to be a sustainable program if funding became unavailable.
Gov. Mark Dayton has $40 million budgeted for SHIP in his new budget proposal, and both county directors are hoping they will once again have access to funding to expand on healthy initiatives.
Mary Hildebrandt, Nicollet County’s director of public health, said she’s pleased to see Nicollet County rank near the top of the list.
Nicollet County ranked No. 16 in health outcomes and No. 5 in health factors.
“Are there areas for improvement? Yes,” Hildebrandt said. “In Nicollet County our obesity rates are a little higher than the state levels, which concerns me, but our tobacco use is lower, which is good to see.”
Within the county, Hildebrandt said residents have access to good service providers and have people who are making good choices for their health and have applied health education it to their lifestyles.
Most area schools in Nicollet County have adopted policies for healthy choices in food, beverages and vending and with a previous SHIP grant, Hildebrandt said schools implemented additional exercise programs.
Waseca County ranked No. 3 in health outcomes but ranked No. 50 in the health factors category.
Cheri Lewer, Waseca County director of Public Health, said Waseca County needs to work on its adult obesity, physical inactivity and teen birth rates. In those areas, Waseca County’s percentages are higher than the state average.
“I think it’s important for people to realize the health of their overall community can affect their overall health,” Lewer said. “If the community is healthy, we’re more likely to be healthy ourselves.”
Reach reporter Jennifer Holt at 837-5446, or follow her on Twitter at @WCNjennifer