Statewide health initiative returns to Freeborn Co.

Published 10:45 am Thursday, November 7, 2013

After a two-year hiatus, Freeborn County will again receive state dollars aimed at improving the health of the area’s residents.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday it awarded the county a $100,000 Statewide Health Improvement Program grant as part of $21.2 million in new grants across the state. The grant will be used to hire a local coordinator who will assess the health needs of the community during the next eight months, said Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever.

In June, the coordinator can apply for grants for implementing new programs that promote exercise and physical activity, improve nutrition and decrease tobacco use, he said.

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SHIP, first signed into law in 2008, seeks to reduce heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases related to insufficient physical activity, poor nutrition and commercial tobacco use.

The last year the county received SHIP funding was in 2011. Prior to that, it received $260,000.

Money in Freeborn County has gone to support everything from disc golf courses to bike lanes to trail signage. It supported healthy eating in the county’s school districts, worksite wellness and even school gardens — much through local partnerships with organizations such as the National Vitality Center and Pioneering Healthier Communities.

Kluever said when the county received SHIP money previously it had a lot of momentum coming at the conclusion of the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project.

“We will have to build that momentum like we had last time,” he said.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said in a news release that SHIP has been instrumental in helping the state make progress on obesity, tobacco use and other factors that contribute to increasing rates of cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Despite the progress being made, public health data show work still needs to be done.

“We are excited that the entire state will now have even more opportunities to eat healthy, be active and quit tobacco use,” Ehlinger said.

The new grants come after Dayton and the Legislature restored funding for SHIP during the 2013 legislative session. Funding for the program had been cut by nearly 70 percent, forcing the Health Department to offer grants to only about half of the state.

Some of the strategies recommended for SHIP including working with schools on farm to school programs, supporting employers in offering workplace wellness programs, encouraging biking and walking, helping residents have better access to fruits and vegetables, among others.

“We know from research that to make a real, long-lasting change in the rates of physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco exposure and use, we need to help communities make it easier for their people to succeed,” said Michelle Larson, interim director for the office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives at the Minnesota Department of Health. “What works best in one community may or may not be what another community needs.”

Freeborn County commissioners voted Tuesday to accept the grant and to move forward with hiring a coordinator. The county will advertise for the position.