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Friday, August 19, 2011

Health program is going on a diet

Article by: Jeremy Olson , Star Tribune
Updated: August 18, 2011 - 4:32 PM

Minnesota will soon learn if its $47 million bet on statewide health improvement is making a dent against the ills of smoking and obesity.

The Minnesota Department of Health is collecting reports about how communities used the state grants over the last two years -- on everything from workplace fitness to tobacco-free campuses to fresh produce campaigns -- and what progress has been made.

While it might be too soon to see a drop in obesity, and tobacco-related health problems, state officials are hoping the effort has at least nudged Minnesotans into healthier lifestyles.

"There is some positive movement on behaviors," said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, state health commissioner. "I'm assuming those positive behavior changes will lead to reduced obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular disease."

Working or not, the approach isn't getting much of a second chance in Minnesota. Facing crushing budget deficits, lawmakers approved only $15 million for the 2012-13 budget cycle after almost scuttling the program entirely.

Ehlinger met with local officials Thursday to discuss how to proceed with less money -- perhaps to focus just on obesity -- or to steer the money to communities with the greatest need or most effective programs.

Grants have improved school lunches through partnerships with local farms and made produce accessible to low-income neighborhoods. Walk-to-school programs and bike paths and racks have increased fitness activity, Ehlinger said.

"People are moving. If you're moving, it's going to be healthier for you."

Minnesota gained national attention for the investment, but critics argued that even $47 million was inadequate.

Ehlinger remains optimistic: "$15 million is not enough to change the culture and change behavior throughout the state. But $15 million is not inconsequential, if we use it correctly." • 612-673-7744
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