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Obesity, water quality, aging among top concerns in county health assessment

Obesity is on the mind of Washington County residents. But so is water quality, smoking and an increase in the aging population.

This week, the county published its "2008 Community Health Assessment" and the issue of overweight adults and children was identified as one of the 12 top health and environment concerns by the more than 1,300 residents who participated in the assessment.

The compiled results were based on resident surveys and focus groups interviews conducted by the county and its partners between November 2007 and February 2008.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted Feb. 18 to accept the report which, according to the county's top public health officials, highlights some concern over specific issues -- but doesn't overshadow that Washington County appears to be a healthy place to live.

Minnesota is currently ranked as the fourth-healthiest state in the country and Washington County is one of the healthiest counties in the state, said Sue Hedlund, deputy director for the county's Department of Public Health and Environment.

"Really, Washington County is a healthy place to be because the people are healthy and the environment is healthy," Hedlund told commissioners at their Feb. 18 meeting.

Upon the board's approval, the entire health assessment report was made available on the Washington County website.

The county plans to submit the results of its 2008 community health assessment to the state Department of Health.

"We want to write a development plan to find out how to address those issues that residents said they were most concerned about," Hedlund said.

Obesity, tobacco use, water quality and aging populations

According to the county report, 62 percent of adults in Washington County are now overweight or obese, which matches the national average. Obesity was one of the major concerns listed by residents in the health assessment report.

The report uses county, state and national data to breakdown obesity statistics by demographic and some of the root causes and effects of an increasingly overweight population.

Water quality was also a primary concern for residents. Much of that concern, according to report, comes out of the discovery in the last five years of low levels of perfluorochemicals in the drinking water of various Washington County communities.

Measures have been taken by the health department and companies responsible and remedial actions to prevent any potential of further contamination are taking place or have taken place, the report states.

Other problems areas listed as key concerns for residents are illegal use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs youth and adults.

According to the report about 32 percent of Washington County residents ages 18-24 smoke cigarettes, compared 19 percent of all adults in the county who smoke. Percentage of adults who do smoke has declined slightly over the past five years, but county commissioner Dennis Hegberg commented that he was surprised to see that one-third of young adults in the county smoke.

Hedlund said those numbers may decrease in the coming years as smoking rates among the county's adolescent population have dropped steadily.

In addition to obesity and tobacco use, other top health and environment concerns listed in the report are:

• Undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems due to stigma and inaccessible resources

• Risk of abuse and neglect of children and vulnerable adults due to inadequate parenting, caregiver support and resources

• Improper waste due to inadequate information, incentives, alternatives or regulations

• Unmet physical, mental and social needs of the aging population due to limited resources and inadequate personal planning.

Hedlund said that by 2030 one out of every five Washington County residents will be over the age of 65. Currently, less than nine percent of residents are 65 or older.

Washington County's complete "2008 Community Health Assessment" report is available on the county's website. To access it, go to and click on the report under "news."