County Health Rankings released: St. Croix is Wisconsin’s healthiest county

April 3, 2012

by Susan Lampert Smith

St. Croix County residents are the healthiest in Wisconsin, according to the 2012 County Health Rankings released today by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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The County Health Rankings rank the overall health of nearly every county in all 50 states using a standard way to measure how healthy people are and how long they live.  This year’s rankings include several new measures, such as how many fast-food restaurants are in a county and levels of physical inactivity among residents.  Graphs illustrating premature death trends over 10 years are also new.

Wisconsin’s five healthiest counties are St. Croix, Ozaukee, Taylor, Iowa, and Vernon.  The five counties in the poorest health are Menominee, Marquette, Milwaukee, Adams, and Jackson.  The least healthy counties are primarily located in rural areas of central and northern Wisconsin with the exception of Milwaukee County, the state’s most urban county, in the southeast.

“The rankings remind us that there is a lot more to health than health care alone.  Where we live, learn, work, and play matters to our health,” says Dr. Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.  “This annual county health check-up is bringing local leaders together to identify where they are doing well and where they should take action to get better.”

The rankings include a snapshot of each county in Wisconsin.  University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute researchers used five measures to assess the level of overall health for each county: premature death, the percent of people who report being in fair or poor health, the number of days people report being in poor physical and poor mental health, and the rate of low birth-weight infants.

The rankings also outline the factors that contribute to a community’s health within four categories: health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment.  The health factors the researchers looked at include: rates of adult smoking, adult obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking among adults, and teenage births; the percent uninsured under the age of 65; availability of primary care physicians; preventable hospital stays; rates of high school graduation, adults who have attended some college, and children in poverty; community safety; limited access to healthy foods; and air pollution levels.

“The County Health Rankings show us that much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor’s office,” says Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).  “The good news is that businesses, health care providers, government, consumers and community leaders are already joining forces in communities across the nation to change some of the gaps that the Rankings highlight.”

The County Health Rankings illustrate what we know when it comes to what’s making people sick or healthy.  New this year, the County Health Roadmaps help counties to mobilize and take action to create healthier places.  Taken together, the Rankings & Roadmaps help create a healthier nation, county-by-county.  To learn what other communities are doing to improve the health of their residents and how your county can develop plans to address health challenges, visit here.

Today also marks the release of the call for applications for the Roadmaps to Health Prize, another component of the County Health Roadmaps project that recognizes and honors the efforts and accomplishments of U.S. communities working at the forefront of population health improvement.  Up to six Roadmaps to Health Prize winning communities will be honored in early 2013; each will receive a $25,000 cash prize.