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Obesity prevention isn’t easy and takes an all-hands-on-deck approach

Kristine Igo

We couldn’t agree more with Kari Winning's May 4 call to action for Minnesota to stay committed to combating childhood obesity.

While Safe Routes to Schools is one important component of this work, there’s so much more that Winning failed to address in her Community Voices commentary, “Minnesota must do more to address childhood obesity.” In addition to all that individuals, foundations, the media, and health care providers have done to educate families about the importance of nutrition and physical activity, Minnesota communities are doing so much more to help improve the health of our children.

The connector for these efforts is the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), which is active in all 87 counties and 10 tribal nations. Through SHIP, local public health, tribal nations and local partners are working to increase opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity in communities across Minnesota.

SHIP initiatives and impact

Specific to children, SHIP efforts include expanding fresh, local produce through Farm to School efforts at schools, increasing time kids move during the school day through our Active Schools Minnesota initiative, supporting moms who want to continue breastfeeding, and working with child care providers to assist them in helping kids develop healthy eating and physical activity habits. In tribal nations, our grantees are using culture to create healthier communities. An example of this is reintroducing cultural activities like traditional lacrosse or stickball to encourage more physical activity.

SHIP is making an impact. Between 2016-2017 alone:

  • 309 Minnesota child care providers improved policies and practices for healthy eating, physical activity and breastfeeding support, benefitting 10,127 children.
  • 304 schools and school districts changed policies and made lunchroom improvements to support healthy food choices, reaching 156,406 students.
  • 243 schools and school districts created policies and systems to make school food environments healthier, from concessions to celebrations, reaching 94,609 students.
  • 214 schools and districts invested in training and equipment to get 77,609 students more active during recess.
  • 251 schools and districts integrated movement into classroom activities throughout the day, reaching 104,561 students.

Those are just a few examples of the SHIP work happening across Minnesota.

We also agree that we must address root causes, but it’s important to take a broader perspective on strategies to prevent childhood obesity. Though we wish it weren’t so, decades of data show the difficulty of this problem for individuals as well as for the nation. Fighting obesity is such a complex problem because the factors affecting obesity are closely connected with our basic needs and opportunities to be healthy.  

Equity issues

If we are to be a healthy state – where all kids have a chance to grow up healthy — we also need to address issues of equity and the broader social and economic factors that influence health, such as poverty, unemployment, disparities in education, unstable housing and structural racism. A recent report by the Commonwealth Fund pointed out the growing disparity for obesity rates between the state’s richest and poorest adults.

That’s why Winning is right on target that we need an all-hands-on-deck approach with our state and local partners to get to a day when all our kids have the chance for a healthy start in life. We invite her and other interested citizens to work locally to support SHIP’s efforts.

Kristine Igo is director of the Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives at the Minnesota Department of Health, which oversees SHIP.

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