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Friday, December 9, 2011

Minnesota Department of Health awards Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grants to fight chronic disease

Locally driven plans will create sustainable, systemic changes to support healthy choices

In a nation-leading effort to reduce chronic disease, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has awarded 18 grants to Minnesota communities to help lower the number of Minnesotans who use tobacco or who are obese or overweight.

The Statewide Health Improvement Program, also known as SHIP, will cover 51 counties, four cities and one tribal government over the next 18 months. Funding for the 18 grants totals approximately $11.3 million.

"The Statewide Health Improvement Program reflects our commitment to improving the health of our communities," Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger said, "and is an important part of containing the spiraling costs of health care."

SHIP is part of Minnesota's historic bi-partisan health care reform initiative first signed into law in 2008. It seeks to reduce the staggering human and financial cost of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases related to insufficient physical activity, poor nutrition and commercial tobacco use. In the first two years of SHIP funding, 41 grantees covering all 87 counties and 9 tribal governments began this important work, and resulted in successes such as helping improve nutrition at 544 child care sites serving approximately 8,564 children, assisting 255 cities create plans to increase walking and bicycling, and supporting Farm to School efforts in 350 schools and 22 school districts serving at least 69,323 students. Funding for SHIP was reduced during the 2011 legislative session; therefore, fewer grantees are receiving funding this year.

"To improve health in Minnesota, we have to think in terms of prevention, not just treatment," Ehlinger said. "In Minnesota and nationally, the two main causes of chronic disease and premature death are obesity, caused by poor nutrition and insufficient physical activity, and commercial tobacco use. We must do something to address these problems as individuals, as communities and as a state."

Nationally, tobacco use, physical inactivity and poor nutrition have been estimated to cause 35 percent of all annual deaths in the United States, or 800,000 deaths each year. These factors also drive up health care costs.

"Not only do chronic diseases reduce the quality of life and life expectancy for Minnesotans, but the costs of treating them create a substantial burden for our health care system," Ehlinger adds.

"SHIP is, at its core, a program by and for local communities," says Patricia Adams, director of the Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives. SHIP is an innovative approach to health improvement, taking proven best practices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other leading public health organizations to create a menu of health improvement strategies for local communities. The grants to local communities will allow communities to choose what works best for them. "Strategies that work best in Minneapolis may or may not be the best way to go in Rice County," Adams said.

SHIP efforts focus on four areas: schools, health care, work places and the community in general. Examples include improving nutrition by working with schools to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, decreasing exposure to second-hand smoke by assisting owners of multi-unit housing wishing to make their buildings smoke-free, lowering insurance costs by supporting employers interested in workplace wellness programs, and increasing physical activity by helping communities make biking and walking safer.

MDH supports local public health and tribal governments by gathering together effective strategies, offering technical assistance and training and assisting in evaluation. Evaluation is one key to SHIP. "It is critical that we know we are being effective," says Adams. "The goal is health improvement and cost savings, and we will settle for nothing less."

The grantees include:

  • Anoka county

  • Beltrami, Clearwater, Lake of the Woods, Hubbard, Norman, Mahnomen and Polk counties

  • The cities of Bloomington, Edina and Richfield

  • Carlton, Cook, Lake, St. Louis, Aitkin, Itasca and Koochiching counties

  • Clay, Wilkin, Becker, and Otter Tail counties

  • Douglas, Grant, Stevens, Pope, and Traverse counties

  • Faribault, Martin, Watonwan, Cottonwood and Jackson counties

  • Hennepin county

  • Kanebec, Pine, Isanti and Mille Lacs counties

  • Leech Lake

  • Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Pipestone, Rock and Nobles counties

  • The city of Minneapolis

  • Meeker, McLeod and Sibley counties

  • Morrison, Todd, Wadena and Cass counties

  • Olmsted county

  • Rice county

  • St. Paul-Ramsey county

  • Sherburne county

More information is available online at

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