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Patrick Springer, Published March 20 2013

Cass, Clay trail national benchmarks in obesity, smoking

FARGO – Cass and Clay counties’ health report cards show room for improvement with adult obesity, adult smoking and excessive drinking rates higher than national benchmarks.

County Health Rankings, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ranked Cass County 10th of 46 North Dakota counties in a new report evaluating health outcomes.

Clay County ranked 43rd of 87 Minnesota counties in the fourth round of the annual county rankings.

Ruth Bachmeier, director of Fargo-Cass Public Health, said the new report is helpful but contained no real surprises.

“I see this as one more tool that we can use as a community along with our health assessment and data by the state and CDC,” or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.

The adult smoking rate for both Cass County and Clay County is 17 percent, compared to the national benchmark of 13 percent.

The adult obesity rate for Cass County is 28 percent and 30 percent for Clay County, compared to the national benchmark of 25 percent.

The rankings do not compare child or adolescent smoking or obesity rates. The benchmark goals are set by study organizers.

The two counties are further from the national benchmark for excessive drinking, which is 7 percent. The excessive drinking rate is 22 percent in Cass County and 21 percent for Clay County.

“Any way you look at it, 22 percent is excessive,” Bachmeier said, adding that it will take time to change the culture of permissiveness when it comes to heavy drinking in the region.

“We’re not going to change the culture of these behaviors overnight,” she said.

Cass County meets the national benchmark rate for diabetic screening, 90 percent, but Clay County lags at 85 percent.

In Cass County, 10 percent of the population is considered to be in poor or fair health, equaling the national benchmark. Clay County just missed the mark at 9 percent.

Keely Ihry, a health educator for Clay County Public Health, said the rankings show room for improvement.

“I do see that we need some work in our health behaviors and physical environment,” she said. “Seeing these numbers shows that the work we are doing is needed in our community.”

Both Clay and Cass counties are engaged in efforts to assess and improve public health, in partnership with medical providers.

By changing the environment, the communities over time can improve health behaviors, including increasing physical fitness levels and better diets, Ihry said.

Selected North Dakota county health outcomes rankings (46 ranked):

• Dickey (1)

• Barnes (2)

• Foster (3)

• Traill (5)

• Cass (10)

• Grand Forks (11)

• Ransom (14)

• Stutsman (37)

Selected Minnesota county health outcomes rankings (87 ranked):

• Carver (1)

• Steele (2)

• Waseca (3)

• Wilkin (33)

• Otter Tail (38)

• Clay (43)

• Becker (76)

• Mahnomen (86)

Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522