Hubbard County ranked in the upper fourth of Minnesota's healthiest counties in a recent University of Wisconsin study.
The nationwide rankings, comparing counties to counties within each state, are a "call to action" for public health officials to mobilize available resources to improve community health.
"For the first time, people have a tool to help identify what is making people in every county unhealthy," said Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health at UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
"I was pleased with it in the big picture," said St. Joseph's community health director Chris Broeker. "There were some very nice things that we could certainly highlight."
Among those bright spots was the county's morbidity and mortality number, 25th of the 85 counties surveyed.
Although Minnesota has 87 counties, the study did not survey Cook and Traverse counties, for unknown reasons.
Neighboring Beltrami County placed second to last, due to numerous health and socioeconomic factors.
"Mortality is measured by looking at years of potential life lost for people that die before the age of 75," Broeker said. "That was half of that score and the other half of that score is the percent of people that report poor or fair health, so our ranking as 25th... is pretty good" in a county with an aging population.
Hubbard County's physical environment placed it No. 6 in the state. That includes factors such as clear skies free of pollution, a relatively small number of fast food restaurants per capita, access to healthy foods and few liquor stores.
The study ranked overall strengths, such as the environment, and weaknesses, such as the social and economic factors, which placed the county at No. 75.
Those factors included the population's education, its unemployment and poverty rates, the number of single parent households and social support.
"Hubbard County has been known as a poor county so that kind of translates into a lower health factor score," Broeker acknowledged.
But the county placed among the top quarter of Minnesota counties with good access to health care facilities, good screening for chronic ailments such as diabetes and use of hospice facilities.
Among the known trouble spots were the county's health behaviors and the No. 50 ranking there came as no surprise to Broeker.
Public health officials have conducted anti-smoking campaigns and initiatives to curb obesity, alcohol abuse, binge drinking and unsafe sex.
Hubbard County residents smoke at a rate of 23 percent compared to the overall state rate of 19 percent; but in areas of binge drinking and obesity, Hubbard County closely mirrors the state averages.
"Target rates" have been listed for counties to aspire to in launching health initiatives.
"That's what we'll use for public health planning, going forward and even though we've worked hard at smoking and obesity, have good support in our community for those programs, we can look back now and say, 'What else can we do, how can we move that a little bit further?'" Broeker said.
"Alcohol use, obesity rates, smoking, those things are tied to poverty and social economic factors as well."
And she said curing those issues will take a community-wide effort, one that will recruit jobs and business to the area and maintaining an infrastructure that will attract businesses and professionals to the community, to the schools, to the health care systems.
A number of efforts are already under way on that front, from the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission, Progress Park Rapids, Healthy Park Rapids 2010 and a pro-active downtown business community.
"It helps us identify what areas to continue to do good work in," Broeker said.
To view the study and rankings, go to www.countyhealthrankings.org.