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County's aim: Improve health, awareness

Hudson Hospital and Clinics and the St. Croix County Public Health Department have compiled a health improvement plan. A summary of that plan was unveiled at a community meeting at Hudson hospital earlier this month.

Titled "St. Croix County Community Health Improvement Plan 2009-2014," the five-year program is aimed at improving the overall health of all citizens in St. Croix County.

The goal of CHIP is to identify critical health issues and prioritize health needs, take action, strive for measurable results and allocate resources to address proven needs.

After brief introductions from Hudson Hospital CFO Marian Furlong and Director of County Health and Human Services Fred Johnson, speakers outlined the needs and ways to address the needs.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Nicolaas Pronk from HealthPartners. He conducts research in the area of health behavior change and population health.

Before Pronk's speech, Hospital Marketing and Community Relations Manager Karen Hansen addressed the study process and overview of the needs assessment. St. Croix County Public health Officer Wendy Kramer listed the studies assessment results and health priorities.

A 25-member steering committee gathered information and helped identify critical health issues.

Kramer said the study list of the top five health priorities in St. Croix County included:

  • Access to primary and preventive health services.
  • Overweight, obesity and lack of physical activity.
  • Adequate and appropriate nutrition.
  • Alcohol and other substance use and addiction.
  • Tobacco use and exposure.

    "Our studies showed that St. Croix County is one of the worst in the state (66 out of 72 counties) when it comes to physical activity," Kramer said. "We're about in the middle of the pack (37 out of 72) in obesity."

    The county is also on the wrong end of binge drinking statistics (63 out of 72). Those surveyed in the county also strongly support a ban on smoking in public places (72 percent).

    The committee also identified several other areas that need improvement, including nutrition, drunk driving, etc.

    There was also some good news in the survey results, including fewer youth smokers than the statewide average, youth alcohol and drug use that is close to state averages and St. Croix County mortality ratings are well below the region and state in nearly every cause of death.

    Dr. Pronk told the audience that there are just four things people can do that would improve their health tremendously.

    "Be more physically active (150 minutes per week), don't smoke, eat five servings of fruit and vegetables each day and drink alcohol in moderation," Pronk said. "It sounds so easy, but only between 5 percent and 8 percent of people adhere to the 'Optimal Lifestyle Metric (OLM).'

    "Of course, that leaves us with a 92 percent opportunity."

    He said genetics can play a role in a person's health, but determinants to health find behavior patterns to be the biggest factor (40 percent). Other factors include genetics (30 percent), social circumstances (15 percent), health care (10 percent) and environmental exposure (5 percent).

    "The reversal of behavioral patterns brings the biggest single opportunity to improve health," Pronk said.

    If you want to find a starting point, Pronk said that four factors cause 40 percent of the deaths in the United States.

    "Tobacco is the leader, followed by poor diet, physical inactivity and alcohol," Pronk said.

    Pronk suggested that impacting healthier living can often be best accomplished through a business setting.

    "Studies show that when a person adheres to the Optimal Lifestyle Metric there can be a strong impact in two years or less," Pronk said. "We see less high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, less cancer, less back pain, less heart disease and less diabetes.

    "Businesses see benefits in less absenteeism, less disability claims, less workers comp and - biggest of all -- much less presenteeism."

    He defined presenteeism as an individual who comes to work but is not productive because of underlying health issues.

    "The bottom line is that businesses benefit from having healthy employees - the firm is more productive and more profitable. That's one reason to get businesses involved in health initiatives."

    He also said businesses have the ability to make it easier for people to participate.

    "If I tell a person they should quit smoking, it probably isn't going to have much of an impact," Pronk said. "In a business setting, they can have employees work together as a group and make it fun."

    Pronk also said there is a psychological advantage to improving a person's health -- people feel better about themselves.

    "But, we need to get this information in all segments of the community." Pronk said. "People don't live their lives in the clinic - we need to get outside the clinic walls and have ongoing dialogue in the community."

    Hansen, who lives in River Falls, said there are several events planned in the next six months to keep the momentum moving forward. Citizens are invited to attend a Community Health Improvement Workshop Wednesday, March 3 from 9 a.m. to noon (lunch following) at Hudson Hospital & Clinics Conference Center.

    "Through lecture, case studies, and small group activities, attendees will learn about action, implementation and evaluation planning to help move the initiative forward," Hansen said. Those interested should RSVP by March 1 to Hansen, (715) 531-6056 or

    The committee hopes to have a plan in place by July to disperse information throughout the communities in St. Croix County.

    "Community change and health improvement requires the dedication and commitment of citizens, businesses, government and the community," Hansen said.

    For a look at the full St. Croix County Community Health Improvement Plan go to (click on public health) or (click on community focus). The full report is a 110-page document that studies demographics, mortality rates and the impact of most every potential health statistic.

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