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A push for better health

St. Mary’s School kindergartners snacked on berries and milk last Friday. Teacher Sue Helgeson (center) and cook Lynn Lesnau (right) served the healthy snack. Lesnau said she’s received a lot of positive feedback from parents who appreciate the healthy snack efforts. (Amy Chaffins/Echo Press)

A multi-million grant from the state will help carry on local efforts to promote healthy lifestyles.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recently awarded more than $21 million in Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grants to counties and cities across the state.

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The local portion of that grant is $448,366, which goes to the Horizon Community Health Board.

That board works on behalf of residents in Douglas, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Grant counties to implement projects and programs that will promote physical activity, improve nutrition and decrease tobacco use.

Douglas County Public Health Educator Crystal Hoepner noted a successful local example of a SHIP-funded program in action: “St. Mary’s School [in Alexandria] is now providing a healthy morning snack to all students. Fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods are prepared by the school cook and delivered to the classrooms in the morning. The program has been very well received by the students and the parents. The students are being exposed to healthy eating options and parents no longer need to debate with their children on what to provide for a snack.”

While maintaining programs already under way, new grant funding will be used to continue promoting healthy choices in the community, schools, workplace and supporting health care providers.

For example, SHIP funds are used in child care settings. Successful programs include “Learning About Nutrition through Activities,” which helps early childhood programs offer healthy eating practices, and “I am Moving, I am Learning,” which builds physical activity into young children’s days.

SHIP also supports apartment building owners to implement policies restricting smoking, resulting in less second-hand smoke exposure for families and lower maintenance costs.

In the workplace, SHIP funds are used to develop voluntary policies to improve nutrition, increase physical activity and promote smoking cessation among Minnesota workers. The efforts are designed to improve employee health while reducing absenteeism and the health care costs incurred by employers.

With the announcement of the latest round of grants, in a news release, Governor Mark Dayton said, “The Statewide Health Improvement Program helps win the fight against both chronic diseases and rising health care costs. By supporting preventive health measures and encouraging Minnesotans to make healthy choices, our state can realize significant health care savings and help people of all ages live healthier, more fulfilling lives.”

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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