County continues to struggle to adopt healthy lifestyles

Once again, Morrison County has fared poorly in the annual countywide health rankings provided by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. This year, the county ranks 82nd highest among Minnesota’s 87 counties, down from 78th last year, when only 85 counties were measured.

While it is tempting to criticize the rankings for using dated information, the indication is still that Morrison County residents need to do more to help themselves become healthier, and thereby happier.

(This year’s rankings uses 30 different criteria, but only four include information from 2012. Most of the information is from 2010-11, but some go as far back as 2008.)

While the county does not rank in the top half in any category on which the rankings are built, the key area where the county is struggling to improve is in morbidity rate, where it ranks 86th. Morbidity is how healthy we are as a people.

The rankings say 18 percent of county residents are considered to be in poor or fair health. This compares to 11 percent statewide and 10 percent nationally. This variance is greater than the margin for error, so it is clear that county residents have room for improvement.

The rankings state that the county loses 5,929 years of life per 100,000 population. If one does the math, that suggests that we are losing almost four years of life on average.

Key areas where county residents score worse than state or national norms are adult smoking, obesity, alcohol use, motor vehicle crash rate, teen birth rate and access to primary care phsyicians and dentists.

Fortunately, some county residents are getting organized to do something about it. The Healthy Communities Collaborative’s Live Better, Live Longer task force is working to encourage county residents to eat healthier, exercise more and belong to groups (the last because research finds that people with friends and a sense of purpose live longer than those who don’t).

In fact, three dates county residents should put on their calendars are May 1, when the Little Falls Day of Caring takes place; May 15, when national fitness expert Robert Sweetgall will preach the gospel of exercise throughout the county at various events and May 17, when the HCC’s annual Rock ‘n Run will take place at the Morrison County Fairgrounds. More details will be forthcoming, but let it be said that by participating in any or all three could lead to a healthier lifestyle for any county resident.