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Minnesota’s healthiest counties in south, unhealthiest in north

County Health Rankings
2016 Minnesota Health Outcomes Map (left), 2016 Minnesota Health Factors Map (right)

Minnesota’s healthiest counties tend to be in the southern part of the state and its least healthy ones in the northern part, according to the 2016 “County Health Rankings & Roadmaps” report released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Among Minnesota’s 87 counties, the five with the poorest health — Mahnomen, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater and Norman — are all located in the top half of the state.

Minnesota’s five healthiest counties, on the other hand — Carver, Washington, Scott, Steven and Houston — are all located in the state’s southern half.

The report bases these county rankings on more than 30 factors that influence health, including housing, jobs, education, smoking and access to healthful food. This year, three new factors were added: residential segregation between blacks and whites, drug overdose deaths and insufficient sleep. 

Minnesota’s highs and lows

Overall, Minnesota scored higher than the national average on almost all of the measures in the report, as it has in past years. For example, the percentage of babies born in Minnesota with a low birthweight is 6 percent, compared to 8 percent nationally. In addition, 26 percent of Minnesota’s adults are obese compared with 31 percent nationally. Teen births in Minnesota are also much lower than the national average: 22 percent versus 40 percent. And 15 percent of Minnesota’s children under the age of 18 live in poverty, compared to 23 percent nationally.

Minnesota scored below the national average on a few measures, however. For example, the percentage of adults in Minnesota who report binge or heaving drinking is 22 percent versus 17 percent across the country. And our high school graduation rate is 81 percent, compared with 86 percent nationally.

A rural-urban divide

This year’s report took a closer look than in past years at differences in health between urban, rural, suburban and smaller metro counties. It found that rural counties tend to have higher rates of smoking, obesity, child poverty and teen births than urban counties. They also had more people without health insurance.

Urban counties, on the other hand, tend to have fewer injury-related deaths and more people who attended college.

In addition, the report found that rural counties tend to have higher rates of premature death than urban ones. In fact, while most urban counties have experienced a consistent improvement in their premature death rates, almost 20 percent of rural counties have seen their death rates rise in recent years.

That finding appears to be generally true in Minnesota, although the county in the state with the highest premature death rate (Mahnomen) and the one with the lowest (Houston) are both rural.

FMI: You can explore the scores of each Minnesota county in detail and compare them to other counties in Minnesota and to national scores at the “County Health Rankings” interactive website.

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