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St. Croix County's health sinks in rankings

St. Croix County was ranked as the healthiest county in Wisconsin in 2012, but this year's numbers have slipped.

According to Deb Lindemann, health officer for St. Croix County, the county's overall rank dropped from No. 1 to No. 3 when the new County Health Rankings were announced last week.

Lindemann said the reduction in the rank isn't cause for serious concern. The county had a significant rise in mortality (or premature death) last year and that appears to be the reason for the drop in overall ranking.

"We're still No. 3," she said. "We are still doing many things right. We just have to keep plugging away."

Lindemann said St. Croix County's efforts to improve the health of residents through its "Healthier Together" initiative has paid big dividends in recent years. As county health officials continue to address such health concerns as tobacco use, obesity and increased activity among residents, the county's mortality figures should drop and the county's overall rank should remain strong.

"The bottom line is that we're still in the top three out of 72 counties," she said. "We still have some work to do, but we've accomplished a lot."

Ozaukee County was tops in Wisconsin, according to the 2013 County Health Rankings tabulated by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). This marks the 10th year that County Health Rankings have been calculated in Wisconsin by UWPHI.

County Health Rankings examine the health and well-being of people living in nearly every county in every state across the nation and show that how long and well people live depends on multiple factors beyond just their access to medical care.

Wisconsin's five healthiest counties are Ozaukee, Kewaunee, St. Croix, Pierce and Door. The five counties in the poorest health are Menominee, Milwaukee, Marquette, Adams and Forest. 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 tell us that we all have a stake in creating a healthier community and no single sector alone can tackle the health challenges in any given community," said Dr. Patrick Remington, professor and associate dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and brother of New Richmond attorney Jim Remington. "Collaboration is critical. The rankings are sparking action throughout Wisconsin as people from all sectors join forces to create new possibilities in health--county by county."

The rankings, available at, include a snapshot of each county in Wisconsin. UWPHI 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 birthweight infants.

The rankings also examine 25 factors that influence health, including rates of childhood poverty, rates of smoking, obesity levels, teen birth rates, access to physicians and dentists, rates of high school graduation and college attendance, access to healthy foods, levels of physical inactivity, and percentages of children living in single parent households. This year's rankings include two new measures: access to dentists and drinking water safety.

St. Croix County ranked high in a number of factors, including social and economic factors (such as high school graduation rates, children in poverty and unemployment) and some general health factors.

Negative factors that worked against the county's ranking included excessive drinking and access to a high number of fast food restaurants.

"The County Health Rankings can be put to use right away by leaders in government, businesses, health care, and every citizen, motivated to work together to create a culture of health in their community," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF president and CEO. "The rankings are driving innovation, unleashing creativity and inspiring big changes to improve health in communities large and small throughout the country."