Obesity, physical inactivity are challenges county health officials are working to improve.

The 2013 County Health Rankings were released March 20 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The County Health Rankings show that how long and how well people live depends on multiple factors beyond just their access to medical care. It examines 25 factors that influence health, including rates of childhood poverty, rates of smoking, obesity levels, teen birth rates, access to physicians and dentists, rates of high school graduation and college attendance, access to healthy foods, levels of physical inactivity and percentages of children living in single parent households.

Brown County ranked 21 out of 87 counties in Minnesota for health outcomes and 31 in health factors.

According to Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz, this ranking system does not always use local specific data. She said the rankings, launched in 2010, are designed to compare the health of counties nationwide and this report is only one of the many tools Brown County Health Departments use as a measurement of the health of communities in the county and the role of prevention across Minnesota.

However, Moritz said it does help her look at a broad picture. What this report tells Moritz is that Brown County is fairly healthy, with the issue of obesity being a challenge the health department is currently working on.

In health behaviors, adult obesity was ranked at 31 percent. The Minnesota average is 26 percent and the national benchmark is at 25 percent.

"Physical inactivity is a concern and has remained the same primarily over the past several years. But again, that data isn't extremely new," Moritz said. She explained the data used to get these results was from 2009, and doesn't take into account the new initiatives that have begun in the county to address the issue of obesity.

"We are high as far as obesity and lack of physical inactivity and that's why we are trying to do something about that," Moritz added.

For instance The Heart of New Ulm is an initiative sponsored by the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation and Alina Health, to promote health prevention and reduce heart attacks and obesity. The program includes increasing fresh fruit and vegetables through farmers markets, healthier options in restaurants, creating neighborhood walking groups, dancing activities, weight challenges and weight management activities just to name a few. In Sleepy Eye initiatives have included providing a healthier menu for school lunches and increasing physical activity. Springfield has initiated a childhood wellness task force that works with providing healthy school lunches, activity programs for students in summer and making people aware of the obesity epidemic throughout the nation.

Moritz wants people to remember that we didn't get this way overnight.

"It took us 20 some years to get to where we are at now, which is significant. Reversing the effects won't happen overnight either." she said. "Our lifestyles have become extremely automated. We are eating the same and engaging in less physical activity. We need to change our lifestyle."

She added that making small changes in the beginning will lead to a sustainable lifetime lifestyle change.

"We have more physical activity programs in our county than ever before and health care systems are now approaching obesity," Moritz said. "Providers have become more confident in talking about it and helping people make better choices. We are focused on it nationwide, statewide and here locally."