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Grants awarded to treat chronic diseases

In a nation-leading effort to reduce chronic disease, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has awarded 39 grants to Minnesota communities to help lower the number of Minnesotans who use tobacco or who are obese or overweight.

The $47 million appropriation for the Statewide Health Improvement Program, also known as SHIP, will cover 86 counties and eight tribal governments over the next two years through grants and technical assistance. SHIP is part of Minnesota's historic health care reform initiative that was signed into law in 2008.

"Minnesota is at the forefront of health care reform," Governor Tim Pawlenty said. "The Statewide Health Improvement Program will improve the health of Minnesotans and also help contain the spiraling costs of health care."

SHIP tackles the top three causes of preventable illness and death in the United States: tobacco use, physical inactivity and poor nutrition. Together these three factors have been estimated to cause 35 percent of all annual deaths in the United States, or 800,000 deaths each year. These factors also drive up health care costs. SHIP interventions are projected to save an estimated $1.9 billion in Minnesota by 2015.

"If we want to truly improve health in Minnesota, we have to move upstream to prevent the chronic diseases that bring people into the health care system in the first place," Dr. Sanne Magnan, Minnesota Commissioner of Health said. "Not only do those chronic diseases reduce the quality of life and life expectancy for Minnesotans, but the costs of treating them create a substantial burden for our health care system. SHIP can reach across the state to improve policies, systems and environments and make it easier for Minnesotans to engage in healthy behaviors that help prevent chronic disease."

SHIP takes a new approach toward prevention by focusing on creating sustainable, systemic changes that make it easier for individuals to make healthy choices in their daily lives. Some prevention programs focus on individual behavior change, which can be difficult to sustain past the life of the program or the individual's involvement in the program.

"Changing policies and systems so that our communities support healthy behaviors will make it easier for people to make healthy choices every day and make that change sustainable," Dr. Marc Manley, vice president and medical director of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota said. "We look forward to collaborating with the Minnesota Department of Health and their Statewide Health Improvement Program on these important goals."

Community health boards and tribal governments applying for the grants chose from a menu of interventions that have been proven effective in reducing tobacco use and exposure and in improving physical activity and nutrition. The interventions focus on four settings -- schools, communities, worksites and health care -- to make sustainable improvements to the policies, systems and environments that determine how Minnesotans live, learn, work, play and receive care.

"We applaud the state's efforts to improve the health and well-being of Minnesotans," Gregg Steinhafel, Target's chairman, president and CEO said. "At Target, our vision is to make it easier for our team members (Target employees) and their families to get and stay healthy. We believe healthier employees and families will lead to more vibrant and productive communities and a healthier nation."

Some of the grant recipients are in the planning phase, while others are implementing their changes. SHIP is locally controlled, so grantees can establish the plans that are best suited to their communities.

A full list of all 39 grant recipients is available online at www.health.state.mn.us/healthreform/ship.

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