Healthy Community Forum hosted in LuverneLUVERNE — Rock, Nobles and Pipestone county Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) members hosted a Healthy Community Forum in Luverne Thursday night to discuss efforts to improve health through better nutrition, increased physical activity and decreased exposure to commercial tobacco products.
By: Alyson Buschena, Worthington Daily Globe
LUVERNE — Rock, Nobles and Pipestone county Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) members hosted a Healthy Community Forum in Luverne Thursday night to discuss efforts to improve health through better nutrition, increased physical activity and decreased exposure to commercial tobacco products.
After a meal of local grown food, Siri Freeh, Miss Minnesota 2012, spoke about her involvement in and dedication to improving community health.
In addition to being the media spokesperson for SHIP, Freeh, 22, is the American Heart Association of Minnesota spokesperson and a nursing student at the University of Minnesota. She plans to pursue a doctorate in cardiovascular research.
Freeh’s area of study and her platform, “Living Heartstrong,” were influenced by her father’s diagnoses of cardiovascular disease in 2011.
“That experience emphasized the important role that our lifestyle choices can make on our health,” said Freeh. “When I became Miss Minnesota, I knew exactly what I wanted to advocate for.”
One program Freeh is especially interested in is Farm to School, which brings farm food into the school district so students can acquire a taste for healthy foods.
“I have a cause I believe is important, not only in Minnesota but across the country,” she said.
Approximately 60 people attended Thursday night’s forum, which included a presentation by Minnesota Department of Health’s Bill Burleson,
“It makes me excited to see so many people active in making their communities better . . . you are the ones that are doing this, and I can’t thank you enough.” Burleson said.
Burleson emphasized that while it is important to have health care in our communities, it is equally important to prevent people from needing health care by improving their overall health.
“I would argue that a third of deaths are caused by tobacco or obesity, and we need to do something about that,” he said.
Health care is a large financial strain on Minnesota that continues to increase, he added.
“We saw that harping at people to improve their lives wasn’t working, so what were we going to do?” Burleson asked the audience.
The problem, he explained, is that many people don’t have easy access to what they need to live healthy: walking paths, farmers markets and safe playgrounds.
“We need to make it possible for people to walk more and have better nutrition,” he said.
SHIP was launched in 2009 to address that need.
In its first two years, SHIP reached large numbers of schools and children and helped get them fresh produce from local farmers at lunch, safe walking routes to school and more active learning during the school day.
SHIP also increased the number of tobacco-free multi-unit houses and post-secondary campuses, the amount of biking and walking paths in the state and the number of farmers markets in Minnesota by 95 percent.
“All of these things are a win-win. Everyone is happy with what is being done,” said Burleson.
Michael Vander Haar, Pipestone Active Living, and David Benson, Noble County Commissioner, both spoke about local efforts in community health.
Pipestone Active Living received funding from SHIP and has used it to improve the community.
“One project we did was educate people about ‘complete streets,’ streets that are usable for cars, bikers and pedestrians,” Vander Haar said.
Pipestone also created community gardens, improved walking and biking paths and started a bike rental program.
Benson encouraged people to be active and informed about the preventative public health care work being done within the counties.
“We’re in this together. We need to be aware of how we are all supporting one another. We need to connect with our communities as places where we are all living together,” he said.
The Minnesota Department of Health hosts periodic regional community forums throughout the state to gather information and make recommendations regarding rural health care in Minnesota.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.