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Vernon County ranked 15th and La Crosse County 22nd in overall health in the 2011 Wisconsin county health rankings.

La Crosse County moved from sixth to fourth in health factors that included health behaviors and medical care, while Vernon County ranked 47th in that category among the state’s 72 counties. La Crosse County was No. 1 in the state in clinical care and access to medical care for the second straight year.

“We have been given high marks in several categories, particularly in how well we reduced the number of preventable hospital stays,” said Brenda Rooney, Gundersen Lutheran medical director for community and preventive care services. “This is one way health care providers in La Crosse County have been working to reduce costs and improve individual health.”

Even though La Crosse County was 22nd overall for the second straight year, the county rose from No. 21 to No. 8 in health behavior rankings. The rankings considered smoking rates, residents’ weight and how often they were injured in car accidents, among other factors.

“These are things residents are doing to improve their health, and we’re seeing that in the rankings,” said Doug Mormann, director of the La Crosse County Health Department. “But we have a lot more to do.”

Vernon County dropped four spots from No. 11 in 2010 in overall health. Overall health is based on health outcomes such as the rate of deaths before age 75, people reporting in fair or poor health and the rate of low-birthweight infants.

Trempealeau, Crawford, Monroe, Jackson and Juneau counties finished in the bottom half of the overall health rankings.

In Minnesota, Winona County ranked 13th and Houston was 41st out of 85 counties. In Iowa, Allamakee County ranked 44th among 99 counties. In Wisconsin, Ozaukee County, just north of Milwaukee, was No. 1 followed by St. Croix, Washington, Waukesha and Taylor counties.

The 2011 report of county health rankings nationwide, developed by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, was released Wednesday.

“These data give us an estimate of where we are in terms of becoming a healthier community,” said Derek Moore, epidemiologist for the La Crosse County Health Department. “While most factors are encouraging, we need to put the data into context.”

Moore said the county’s adult obesity rate, 26 percent, is slightly over the national benchmark of 25 percent. “That still means one in every four adults is obese, and that is often the largest predictor for chronic health problems down the road,” he said.

The La Crosse Area Medical Health Science Consortium, a coalition of health and education partners from the Coulee Region, has set a goal to make La Crosse County the healthiest county in Wisconsin by 2015.

“I’m not sure we will be the healthiest county by 2015,” Mormann said, “but we’re headed in the right direction.”

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