Get involved to move Morrison up in health rankings

By Bonnie Paulsen, Guest Columnist

Last week the County Health Rankings (CHR) were released and, as the Record reported, Morrison County has made a drop in where we were ranked from previous years. While there are many indicators that go into determining the health rankings, we are seeing progress in some areas. In addition to Live Better Live Longer, there are many groups working toward increasing healthy behaviors in Morrison County.

Alcohol use is one measure that affects our CHR. In 2004, the Minnesota student survey data showed that while the majority of county youths were not using alcohol, 38 percent reported they had used alcohol in the past 30 days. In 2006, funded from the Department of Human Services grant, the Pierz Area Coalition (PAC) was started to focus on substance use prevention in our students. By 2010, the Morrison County rate of past 30-day use had dropped to 29 percent, a 9 percentage point drop from 2004.

What does that mean? It means that more of our young people have made the choice to not use alcohol and there is a decreased risk of them becoming addicted to alcohol and moving on to other drugs. Teenage brain chemistry isn’t set until about age 25, so the younger they are exposed to substances like alcohol, the greater the chance that they will become dependent. By having a coalition of community members who are working toward this goal, we are seeing a change in behavior.

Does this mean we are done? No, we still have 29 percent of students in Morrison County making the choice to use alcohol. Besides the PAC, which should be extremely proud of the work they have done over the past seven years, we have a new coalition in Little Falls, the Stand Up 4 U coalition, working on the same focus.

Addressing youth substance use over time will have a positive impact on excessive alcohol use by adults. According to the health rankings data, the majority of Morrison County residents do not drink excessively, but the excessive drinking rate of 23 percent is higher than the Minnesota state average of 20 percent and the national benchmark of 7 percent.

This is just one example of the many coalitions working in our county to improve the health and safety of our residents. Other coalitions, to name just a few, are the Safe Roads Coalition (working on traffic safety), Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) and Community Transformation Grant (CTG), working on decreasing obesity, decreasing tobacco use, increasing active living and the Violence Prevention Initiative (working to decrease domestic violence).

Where we live matters. The county health rankings take into account more than just health behaviors. It also looks at our environment, access to quality health care, education and economic factors, such as jobs. All of these benchmarks are interconnected.

The good news is we do have many community partners, through coalitions, working on them. I would encourage community members to become involved and continue making our county a great place to live, work and play.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Bonnie Paulsen is the director of Morrison County Public Health.