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A man holds a cigarette while waiting for a bus at the Central Park Transit Station in Mason City. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s ninth annual County Health Rankings, Cerro Gordo County dropped two points from last year to 72nd, based on an increase in obesity and excessive drinking and smoking among adults. 

MASON CITY | Cerro Gordo County has slipped to its lowest health ranking since 2012.

That‘s what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s ninth annual County Health Rankings announced in rankings released Wednesday.

Among Iowa’s 99 counties, Cerro Gordo County ranks 72nd, a two-point drop from last year — making it the second lowest ranking in the nine-county North Iowa area.

“The data isn’t real time, but we’re definitely concerned about what is making us dip in the rankings,” said Kara Vogelson, Cerro Gordo County Public Health organizational development and research manager.

The annual rankings position counties in two areas: health outcomes and health factors based on a variety of national and state data sources.

Health outcomes refer to length of life, which Cerro Gordo County ranks No. 81, and quality of life, which the county ranks No. 60. Health factors look at a variety of things that indicate a person’s health, like health behaviors (Cerro Gordo ranked No. 30); clinical care (No. 3); social and economic factors (No. 53); and physical environment (No. 49).

Cerro Gordo County’s highest health outcomes ranking, No. 49, came in 2015, but since then, its ranking has continually slipped in the area of health outcomes.

“It’s the health outcomes that weigh so heavily on ranking that causes us to drop in overall ranking,” Vogelson said.

She said that’s likely due to the county’s premature death rate, or years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 people, according to the report.

“It’s fairly high,” she said. “It’s definitely increased in the last couple years.”

Since 2016, the premature death rate in Cerro Gordo County has increased from 6,000 to 7,300.

The county has, however, improved its health factors since 2015.

This year it moved up to No. 23 from last year’s No. 30. Its best ranking, No. 14, was in 2011, which was the first year of the report, and its worst, No. 43, was in 2015.

“That’s pretty good,” said Karen Odegaard, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps community coach. “It’s heading in the right direction.”

Odegaard said health factors, which examine “how well and how long people are living in a community,” are looking better than health outcomes, which provides a snapshot of the county’s health today, compared to what’s happening in other counties and the state.

Based on Cerro Gordo County’s health factors, Odegaard said the county is likely to see improvement in the outcomes area.

According to the rankings, the county’s areas to explore in the health factors category are adult obesity, adult smoking, excessive drinking and injury deaths — most of which showed data above the state and U.S. average.

Adult obesity in Cerro Gordo County, which refers to the percentage of individuals with body mass index of 30 or more, remained at 33 percent over last year, while the percentage of adults reporting binge or heavy drinking increased to 22 percent from 19 percent in 2017.

Violent crime, or offenses that involved face-to-face confrontation between the victim and perpetrator, including homicide, sexual assault and robbery per 100,000, equaled 106 using data from 2012 to 2014, and injury death, or the number of deaths from intentional or unintentional injuries per 100,000, totaled 94 using data from 2012 to 2016.

Worth County’s totals in violent crime and injury death were higher than Cerro Gordo.

Cerro Gordo County showed better results than Iowa in access to exercise opportunities, 94 percent; as well as ratio of population to primary care physicians, 610-to-1, and mental health providers, 410-to-1.

Vogelson said in the areas of teen births and adult smoking — both of which Cerro Gordo County Public Health has programs in place to address — the county has seen a drop since 2014. In both areas, the county is below the state average, according to the recent report.

“It’s a lot about setting a long-term goal and figuring out what to put in place to achieve it,” she said.

Vogelson said the County Health Rankings is just one resource public health uses to gauge the health of the county and effectiveness of its programming.

Cerro Gordo County Public Health, in collaboration with Prairie Ridge, United Way of North Central Iowa and, creates an annual Community Health Needs Assessment.

“It’s a community-owned document,” Vogelson said. “We really try to work as a community-wide effort to capitalize on our strengths and move forward as one.”

The Iowa State Report called attention to key drivers of health, such as children in poverty. In Iowa, 15 percent of children live in poverty, compared to the U.S. rate of 20 percent. Among racial and ethnic groups in Iowa, rates of children in poverty range from 12 percent to 40 percent with black children faring the worst and white children faring the best.

In Cerro Gordo County, 15 percent of children live in poverty. Of those, 41 percent are Hispanic, 17 percent are black and 15 percent are white, the report shows.

“The rankings are intended to be a call to action. These reports really show that action is needed now,” Odegaard said. “The first step for communities is to look at County Health Rankings data, and then work together to find solutions so everyone, regardless of race and ethnicity, has the opportunity to be healthy.”

Cerro Gordo County wasn’t the only county to slip in the health rankings this year. Its neighbors — Hancock, Franklin, Wright and Butler counties — also did. However, Winnebago, Worth and Floyd counties improved, while Mitchell County remained the same.

Butler County ranks ninth, followed by Mitchell County (10th), Winnebago County (29th), Worth County (37th), Franklin County (38th), Floyd County (43rd), Hancock County (71st) and Wright County (91st).

The counties deemed the healthiest are, starting with No. 1, Grundy County, which received that ranking for the first time, followed by Sioux, Cedar and Dallas counties. Iowa’s least healthy counties in descending order are Monona, Appanoose, Decatur, Audubon and Lee.

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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