Cook County health ranking improves in annual checkupNortheastern Minnesota’s most-rural county is also the region’s healthiest, an annual county-by-county health ranking suggests.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Northeastern Minnesota’s most-rural county is also the region’s healthiest, an annual county-by-county health ranking suggests.
Cook County ranks among the top 30 in the state in the two major areas evaluated in the fourth annual County Health Rankings, released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Out of 87 counties, Cook County ranked 29th in “health outcomes” — up from 42nd last year. The health outcomes category considers premature deaths, low birth weight and similar data.
Cook County ranked 23rd in “health factors,” which includes a wide array of measures ranging from adult obesity to sexually transmitted infections to the violent crime rate.
St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties have ranked relatively low in all four years of the County Health rankings.
With a population of just 5,100, Cook County wasn’t even included in the first two years of the health survey.
Results from such small numbers can be easily skewed, said Joni Kristensen, Cook County’s public health coordinator.
Nonetheless, Kristensen said she believes the data are starting to validate cooperative efforts to improve health in her county. They involve public agencies and private entities working together, she said.
The county’s “active living summit” last fall was one such effort, she said. They’re looking at improving the streetscape on state Highway 61, schools are opening hallways after hours for people to walk inside, and efforts are under way to provide safe routes to school.
“I’m not talking about everyone getting out and running a mile,” Kristensen said. “We’re talking about ways that even people with disabilities … can continue to be active.”
Although Cook County falls well below some of the counties in the suburban Twin Cities and most of those in southeastern Minnesota, it stands out in the region. St. Louis County ranked 72nd in health outcomes and 59th in health factors; Lake County ranked 83rd in health outcomes but 28th in health factors; and Carlton County ranked 81st in health outcomes and 36th in health factors.
“It’s exactly the same as it’s been the last three or four years,” said St. Louis County Public Health Director Guy Peterson of his county’s challenges. “Children in poverty, unemployment and adult smoking bring most of our health outcomes down.”
St. Louis County also is addressing issues of active lifestyles, Peterson said.
“It would be nice if kids had safe routes where they could walk to school,” he said. “You start small, but you just try to make changes.”
In St. Louis County, 21 percent of children live in poverty, compared to a statewide average of 15 percent, the rankings show. St. Louis County matches the national average of more than one in five children living in poverty.
Indeed, higher levels of poverty tend to equate to poorer health nationwide, said Patrick Remington, associate dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, in a news conference on Wednesday.
“Where we live has an effect on our health,” he said.
Douglas County ranked 53rd out of 72 Wisconsin counties in health outcomes and 55th in health factors.
In a news release, Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota health commissioner, noted that the state as a whole ranks as one of the healthiest in the nation. The news release said the department’s Statewide Health Improvement Program is focusing its resources on the northern part of the state with its many counties ranking near the bottom for health outcomes.