Minnesota's nationally recognized Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) made significant progress during its third year.

Minnesota's nationally recognized Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) made significant progress during its third year.

The progress brief comes at a time when healthy community efforts geared toward reducing obesity rates and health care costs continue to gain momentum in Minnesota.

"Communities across the state are recognizing the need to take a community-wide approach to combating obesity and tobacco use – two of the biggest factors pushing up health care costs," Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger said. "Healthy living isn't just an issue for the health department or local clinics, it is an issue that all parts of the community need to address."

On Thursday, Minnesota's Statewide Health Improvement Program released its third-year progress report. The report found that, though SHIP entered its third year a much smaller program than intended because of budget cuts, it made significant progress towards its goals by partnering with hundreds of schools, clinics and workplaces across Minnesota. The report is available at http://www.health.state.mn.us/ship/.

After receiving $47 million in its first two years, SHIP received a 70 percent cut to $15 million for fiscal years 2012-13. It is now providing community grants to just over half the state. For fiscal years 2014-15, Governor Mark Dayton has proposed a $40 million budget for SHIP that would again make the program statewide.

To combat rising health care costs, Minnesota is at the center of a community-wellness movement, including SHIP, "Blue Zones" in Albert Lea, the Heart of New Ulm, and several others. At its core, the concept involves supporting individuals' healthy choices by making those choices easier. For example, encouraging people to get outside and walk more becomes easier in a community with good sidewalks. Encouraging people to eat healthier becomes easier when people have easy access to fresh, high-quality fruits and vegetables. Evidence shows that in addition to providing better health for individuals, these changes can help reduce health care costs associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

"A key goal of the health department is to return SHIP to a statewide program and make sure that all communities in the state, not just a few successful test-cases or early adopters, can benefit from a healthy-community approach," said Commissioner Ehlinger.

The report found that because of SHIP's efforts since 2009, more than 140,000 students in more than 200 schools now have more opportunities to walk to school and more than 160,000 employees in more than 900 businesses are benefiting from work place wellness programs because of the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced today.

Specific results highlighted in the brief include:

Approximately 255 cities worked to improve walkability and bikeability in the first two years of SHIP. After the program's third year, almost 300 cities took steps to make physical activity easier.

Farm-to-school efforts that connect local farmers and schools were under way at 367 schools serving 200,000 students in the program's first two years. Now, such efforts are underway in at least 440 schools serving 235,000 students.

More than 500 child care sites had worked to improve nutrition, serving more than 8,500 children in the first two years of SHIP. By the end of the third year, 580 child care businesses are now improving nutrition while teaching more than 10,000 children about healthy eating. Meanwhile, in the first two years over 900 child care sites worked on increasing physical activity for the kids, serving over 20,000 children. By the end of 2012, more than 1,000 child care sites have increased physical activity for almost 24,000 children.

Thirty-one post-secondary schools become tobacco-free campuses in the first two years of SHIP. Now, 59 campuses either are or are becoming smoke-free, helping protect the health of 146,000 students.

Farmers markets increased access to fruits and vegetables, a key component of healthy eating. During the first two years, SHIP worked with 53 farmers markets in Minnesota. During the third year, 71 new or existing farmer's markets received support from SHIP.

SHIP offers grants to local public health agencies and tribal governments to pursue those health improvement strategies most needed in their area.

For example, with the help of Olmsted County SHIP, Villages at Essex Park apartment complex in Rochester voluntarily went smoke free. "The health and wellbeing of our residents is top priority," commented Michelle Ellis-Hirlston, Regional Property Manager for Dominium Management. "A smoke-free building is safer and contributes to a better living environment and aligns better with the vast medical community of Rochester."

In central Minnesota, SHIP funding helped implement the Senior Fruit & Vegetable Program through the public health agencies in Todd and Wadena Counties. They used the existing Meals on Wheels structure to bring fruits and vegetables to homebound seniors. Lil Swenson, 85 of Humphrey Manor in Wadena, said, "I always have tried to serve a balanced meal."

"These are only two of hundreds of similar examples happening around the state, where by making healthy choices easier, people are benefiting" adds Pat Adams, director of the Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives. Visit http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/oshii/ship/stories/ to read SHIP stories from dozens of Minnesota communities.

Recent data show Minnesota now spends almost $7,000 per capita each year on health care. SHIP focuses on root causes of poor health, such as a lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, and tobacco use, the leading drivers of rising health care costs in Minnesota. Minnesota spends $2.9 billion in annual medical costs (2007) as a result of tobacco use, and $2.8 billion in annual medical costs as a result of obesity (2006).

In 2008, Minnesota policy makers recognized that in order to contain spiraling health care costs, investments in prevention were needed. With bipartisan support, Minnesota passed a ground-breaking health reform law that included SHIP. Two-year SHIP grants were awarded on July 1, 2009 to all 53 community health boards and nine of 11 tribal governments.

Through broad public-private partnerships and with sustained SHIP funding, SHIP's current goal is to increase Minnesota's proportion of healthy weight adults by 9 percent (from 38 percent to 47 percent), and to reduce young adult tobacco use by 9 percent (from 27.8 to 18.6 percent) by 2020. SHIP employs science-based strategies that focus on creating sustainable, systemic changes in communities.

A 2012 report from the Trust for America's Health indicated Minnesota could achieve $4.189 billion in health care cost savings by 2020 if the average Minnesotan's Body Mass Index (BMI) decreased by 5 percent (cumulative).