Making Minneapolis healthier from the inside out
Adults in Minneapolis are fat and so are their kids. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a shocking 24% of Minneapolis adults are obese and 23.1% of public school students in the city are overweight or obese. Although those rates are below the national average, they still represent a major public health problem and a bleak future of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Many people seem frustrated as they struggle to lose weight but don’t have the support they need. Without proper infrastructure and community support, it can be impossible for the average family to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Luckily, the government is beginning to recognize the environmental changes needed to make good health a reality for its citizens. The CDC has developed an initiative called Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) that provides grants to cities across the nation to become healthier. The CDC recognizes that the two leading causes of preventable death and disease are obesity and tobacco use. The CPPW program gives funding to cities to tackle one or both of these issues. In June 2010, Minneapolis began a two-year partnership with CPPW to help curb the city’s obesity problem.
Community initiatives are at the core of the CPPW model. The funding supported a number of projects in three focus areas: healthy eating, active living and media outreach. Many of the programs included in the grant funding were already established by the Minnesota or Minneapolis government and other organizations. The grant allowed existing programs to grow and also created new health initiatives throughout the city.
The grant came to a close this month. Here are a few highlights of the tremendous progress made during the two-year program.
Active Living: Weight loss inevitably includes exercise, but many neighborhoods don’t provide safe, accessible places to be active. The CPPW funds helped promote walking and biking as a way to exercise and travel to work and school. Supporting the well- established Bike.Walk.Move campaign, multiple programs were designed to make biking and walking the norm. The Nice Ride bike share program was expanded by adding 11 additional kiosk locations in the North Minneapolis neighborhoods that needed them the most. Nice Ride is designed for short trips throughout the city in between the kiosks. Residents are able to subscribe for the day, week or month. The extra bikes made a huge difference; 124 North Minneapolis residents became annual subscribers in 2011 and burned about 518,000 total calories on their bike rides!
Safe Routes to School is another great program that the CPPW funding was able to enhance. The program, which began in 2006, focuses on creating ways for Minneapolis Public School (MPS) students to walk or bike to school to improve both their health and the environment. My favorite initiative of the Safe Routes program is the walking school buses. These “buses” work just like regular school buses, with stops throughout the neighborhood. Parent volunteers lead the bus as they pick up students along the way and continue their walk or bike-ride to school. It teaches kids from a young age to incorporate exercise into daily routine and negates the idea that exercise is something extra and inconvenient. What a great way to get kids moving!
Accessible Foods: People simply cannot be healthy without eating fruits and veggies. Unfortunately, stocking up on produce isn’t always easy. Many urban neighborhoods are “food deserts,” meaning they don’t have markets with healthy options. Shoppers in these often low-income communities have no choice but to buy their food at the corner store.
The Minnesota Department of Health and Family Support (MDHFS) and CPPW are doing a great job at making healthy produce readily available. At six farmers’ markets throughout the city, residents can now use Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) funds. EBT funds are part of the Supplement Nutrition Assistance program formerly known as Food Stamps. According to the program website, 91% of customers utilizing the EBT system say that they eat more fruits and veggies because of the program. Over $70,000 in EBT funds have been used at the six farmers’ markets since the launch of the program in 2010.
The Local Food Resource Hubs Network is another program the MDHFS created with the nonprofit organization Gardening Matters. These hubs are networks of community partners and residents working to grow, cook and preserve their own produce. Members pay a small yearly fee and were asked to volunteer at one event. In return they receive seeds, as well as gardening, cooking and preserving education. Participating in the hubs was an opportunity for many Minneapolitans to grow their own food for the first time. Veggies for all!
Media Outreach: A unique aspect of the CPPW grant is that recipients are required to incorporate a media campaign as part of their program. Community is at the core of their strategy and media is a way to reach out to individual communities. “The reasoning behind this requirement is that scientific research shows that media campaigns, based on market research and targeted to priority audiences, are an affordable and effective method for changing behaviors and motivating people to action,” shared Ms Kristen Klingler, the CPPW coordinator in Minneapolis.
The Making it Better campaign was launched in Minneapolis to engage the community in creating a healthier environment for themselves and their neighborhoods. Through radio, TV and social media, residents were encouraged to submit stories of “community heroes” working to promote healthy behaviors. Several of these exercising and healthy eating heroes were featured in ads as part of the campaign.
In June, the CDC grant came to a close in Minneapolis. Although funding will no longer flow from the CDC, the results were dramatic and the programs and community support will continue. Due to the extensive community involvement and enthusiasm, many of the programs will carry on. According to Ms Klingler, popular and well- established projects will continue to run through the support of the MDHFS and other partners.
The CDC and city of Minneapolis seem to have it right. Small steps in individual communities are making a big difference and paving the way for a healthier and slimmer city. Check out the CPPW website for a list of all of the programs and how you can become involved,
Raina Goldstein Bunnag has a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and is currently a master’s candidate in nutrition and public health at the University of North Carolina.She keeps abreast of the latest health news and will be addressing relevant wellness topics each month. If you have any questions or topics you would like to see covered in the column, please send her an e-mail at email@example.com