MARSHALL - A healthy lifestyle isn't just about knowing the right choices to make, Bill Burleson said.
"We spent 30 years telling people to walk more and eat better," without much change, said Burleson of the Minnesota Department of Health. Many Minnesotans just didn't have the chance to follow through on what they were being told. It's tough to walk more if there's no safe place to walk, or to eat fresh vegetables if they aren't available where you live. Communities around the state agreed that needed to change, Burleson said.
Making changes for better health was the focus of both the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), and a community forum Thursday at the Marshall Area YMCA. Speakers, including both area residents and Miss Minnesota Siri Freeh, talked about the importance of community partnerships and SHIP in promoting good health. The event also included a mini farmer's market and lunch made with locally-produced fruits, vegetables and breads.
Photo by Deb Gau
Miss Minnesota Siri Freeh was one of the speakers at a community health forum Thursday at the Marshall Area YMCA.
Health conditions like heart disease, obesity and diabetes pose a threat to Minnesotans' health, but they can be improved and even prevented through lifestyle changes, Freeh said.
"The question is, how do we address the issue before it becomes such a huge problem?" she said.
Through SHIP, a variety of community programs are helping address preventable health risks in southwest Minnesota. Burleson and Carol Biren of SHIP said the program emphasizes local control and can adapt to a wide variety of projects, from building sidewalks and bike trails to encouraging farmers' markets and local nutrition programs. In the three years SHIP has been up and running, Burleson said, it has supported more than 100 pedestrian projects through the Safe Routes to School program, and more than 300 Minnesota schools began participating in the Farm-to-School program, which connects school districts with local food producers. Workplace wellness programs affecting more than 100,000 employees statewide have been implemented. Burleson also said the number of farmers' markets has grown in southwest Minnesota.
"What a win-win situation that is," he said.
Area residents also said southwest Minnesota has made a lot of progress in promoting healthier living. David Benson, a Nobles County commissioner, said he's seen a change in how counties approach the issue of public health.
Instead of looking more at the prevention of disease outbreaks, Benson said, "We were looking at the social determinants of public health and asking, 'How do we design our communities?'"
Marshall resident Lloyd White said the city has made great strides toward being more pedestrian-friendly. White said he walks 20 miles or more each week, but it's not always easy to do.
White said when he first came to Marshall about 40 years ago, "All I could think was, 'Do these people want their kids to play in the street?' I'm dodging cars all the time." But over time, he said, more sidewalks have been put in along Marshall's streets, and walking and biking trails have been built. "It's great."
Sunny Ruthchild of Walnut Grove said increased interest in healthy eating has been good for both "foodies" and area farmers. To help better connect growers with potential customers, members of the Buffalo Ridge Sustainable Farmers Association came together to compile a local food guide for southwest Minnesota.
"We needed to know who all the players were," Ruthchild said. SHIP helped fund the publication of the guide, and the next step for local producers is to get a food cooperative going in the Marshall region.
Despite local progress, there's still more that could be done, SHIP supporters said. They encouraged Minnesotans to ask their local legislators to support funding for the program in the next biennium.