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New report ranks health of Minnesotans by county

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Physician and patient
A physician examines a patient at a clinic.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Residents in southwestern Minnesota's Jackson County are the healthiest in the state, according to a new report.

The 2010 County Health Rankings marks the first attempt to rank the overall health of residents in each county by using a standard formula. Health officials hope the rankings will encourage counties to improve public health efforts.

"This is a process to shine a light on, 'How can we all get better?'" said Minnesota Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released the findings on Wednesday. Their report includes similar county-by-county health rankings for all 50 states.

The report ranks 85 of Minnesota's 87 counties by "health outcomes" and "health factors." (Two counties were excluded due to their small population size.)

Health outcomes include the length and quality of life. The report's authors measured quality of life by "self-reported fair or poor health, poor physical health days, poor mental health days, and the percent of births with low birth weight."

Jackson County earned the top ranking for health outcomes, followed by Scott and Steele Counties.

"We're a long way from a metro area," said Pat Stewart, community health services administrator for Cottonwood and Jackson Counties, who expressed delight over the rankings.

"We have no malls. We don't have any place to walk inside and get the exercise," said Stewart. "Almost everything that we do -- because we don't have those kinds of recreational activities -- takes place outside."

The report ranked Olmsted County, home to the Mayo Clinic, highest in health factors, followed by Dakota and Washington Counties.

Health factors cover four areas: Health behaviors, health care access and quality, social and economic factors, and physical environment factors.

Health behaviors include tobacco and alcohol use, diet and exercise, and risky sexual behavior. Social and economic factors include education, employment, income, family and social support, and community safety.

The lowest rankings went to Lake County, for health outcomes, and Beltrami County, for health factors.

Hennepin County fared better than Ramsey County in both areas. The report ranked Hennepin County fifth in health factors, and ranked Ramsey County 32nd. For health outcomes, Hennepin County ranked 42nd and Ramsey County ranked 60th.