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Statewide Health Improvement Program awards grants to communities across Minnesota

November 04, 2013

SHIP building a foundation of good health for all Minnesotans

Continuing the effort to improve the health of Minnesotans, and reduce health care costs through low-cost, preventive measures, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has awarded more than $21.2 million in Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grants to counties and cities across Minnesota. The grants will be used by communities – in partnership with local businesses, schools, and local governments – to implement projects and programs that will promote exercise and physical activity, improve nutrition, and decrease tobacco and alcohol use.

“The Statewide Health Improvement Program helps win the fight against both chronic diseases and rising health care costs,” said Governor Mark Dayton. “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.”

In fact, a recent study: Bending the Obesity Cost Curve in Minnesota, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the fight against obesity alone has the potential to save Minnesota billions of dollars. The study showed that reducing the average Body Mass Index (BMI) in the state by just five percent could lead to health care savings of more than $4 billion in Minnesota over the next 10 years. Reaching that same goal over the next 20 years could save the state as much as $11 billion.

According to Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota’s SHIP initiative 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. By supporting preventive measures to improve public health, SHIP helps create better health outcomes, and reduces health care costs for all Minnesotans. However, public health data show that plenty of work remains, and continued investments in SHIP are critically important.

“SHIP has been making progress with its mission to make healthy living easier for Minnesota communities,” Commissioner Ehlinger said. “But there is still more work 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. These are all important steps to avoiding chronic health problems like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.”

The new grant awards announced today come after Governor Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature restored funding for the SHIP initiative during the 2013 Legislative Session. Funding for the program had been cut by nearly 70 percent, forcing the Health Department to offer the grants in only about half of the state. But the new state budget signed into law this spring increased SHIP funding by $20 million, restoring the opportunity for communities statewide to participate in the program. This additional funding allowed 25 more counties to receive SHIP funding.

How SHIP Works

Launched in 2008 as part of Minnesota’s bipartisan health reform effort, SHIP works to help Minnesotans live longer, healthier lives by decreasing obesity and tobacco use and exposure the leading causes of chronic disease, disability and death. Obesity and tobacco use cost Minnesota nearly $6 billion in Medical costs every year. In fact, one out of every three Minnesotans are overweight or obese, and more than one in six Minnesotans still smoke.

To help communities combat chronic disease, the Minnesota Department of Health has compiled a menu of evidence-based strategies that local communities can choose from to improve health. SHIP strategies include:

  • Working with schools to encourage “Safe Routes to School” programs, so that kids arrive safely to school focused and ready to learn, and “Farm to School” programs, so that kids get healthy Minnesota produce and learn where their food comes from, all while benefiting local farmers.
  • Supporting employers in offering comprehensive workplace wellness programs, which have been credited with returning between three to six dollars for every dollar spent.
  • Working with communities to encourage biking and walking, including “Complete Streets” with sidewalks and crosswalks, all designed to make it easier for people of all ages to get the physical activity they need.
  • Better access to healthy fruits and vegetables in corner stores in cities and convenience stores in greater Minnesota, and through more farmers markets, especially those accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) so that more people can get the healthy food their families need.
  • Healthier eating and more physical activity in childcare settings through successful, proven early childhood programs.
  • Helping colleges go tobacco-free and connecting students and staff to smoking cessation services, and helping apartment building owners to voluntarily adopt smoke-free policies.
  • Working with health care providers to offer the services and referrals their patients need to eat healthier, get more physical activity, quit smoking, and encourage breastfeeding for newborns. 

“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,” says Michelle Larson, Interim Director for the Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives, the home for SHIP at MDH. “What works best in one community may or may not be what another community needs,” adds Larson. MDH also provides communities with technical assistance and evaluates the effectiveness of their initiatives.

While existing efforts from the last four years will continue for 2014-15, there are some interesting new approaches. SHIP has always sought to address the gap in health outcomes between various populations, but now the program will be more focused on closing these gaps and promoting health equity. SHIP is also putting new emphasis on seniors, as the baby boom continues to age and need services.

To learn more about SHIP grants by community, please see the full Minnesota Department of Health press release here.