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Leaders look to help others find healthier lifestyle

It's a fairly simple equation that doesn't take a lot of brainpower to solve: Exercise and good eating habits equal better health.

Conversely, physical inactivity and bad eating habits are a shortcut to obesity, diabetes, and many other chronic, serious illnesses.

But for many -- particularly those living in remote, rural areas, or living with economic and social disadvantages -- the barriers to living a healthier lifestyle may seem insurmountable.

This past Monday, staff members at Essentia Health-St. Mary's met with representatives from area health agencies and various health and fitness-related service providers to begin working on a plan for removing those barriers.

"While obesity and related health conditions are nationwide concerns, we are working on local solutions," said Dr. Sara Hendrickson, a community health specialist with the Essentia Institute of Rural Health (EIRH) in Duluth.

"Coordinating all our efforts to address obesity and related health conditions will multiply our ability to help area residents make healthy and meaningful changes in their lives," she added.

Hendrickson and EIRH senior research scientist Nawal Lutfiyya facilitated Monday's gathering at Essentia Health-St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes.

The goal of this particular planning meeting, Lutfiyya said, was to come up with an intervention strategy specifically targeted to address risk factors for diabetes and other chronic diseases -- risk factors including obesity, physical inactivity and poor nutrition.

Several options were presented, but by the end of the meeting, a consensus had been reached by all of the participants that a "hybrid" approach was needed.

The hybrid approach that was given the seal of approval by the two dozen attendees should combine diabetes education with informational outreach activities and enhanced/improved access to places for physical activity.

For instance, part of that education might include providing information on the recreational resources available in the community, such as the community center, fitness facilities, walking and biking trails, etc.

Kim Bettcher, fitness and aquatics program director at the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center, noted that there were scholarship opportunities available for those who would like access to their facilities, but could not afford the full membership fees.

"We've never said no," Bettcher said, noting that once someone requests a membership, they try to find a plan that is affordable for them.

The DLCCC also provides doctors with passes to give to their patients for six free visits to use their facilities, Bettcher added. "The opportunity and access is there."

Lori Thorp, community education director for Frazee-Vergas Public Schools, noted that they would be offering a class this spring with University of Minnesota Extension Service nutrition educator Tracy Baker called "I Can Prevent Diabetes."

Thorp noted that part of the challenge of offering such educational opportunities is making sure as many people as possible are aware that it's available.

"I'm always an advocate of touching as many people as we can," Bettcher agreed.

But Essentia Health-St. Mary's CMO Peter Jacobson noted one potential drawback to this approach.

"I worry a little bit," he said. "On the one hand, we want to be all inclusive, but at the same time, if you're targeting everybody, then you're really targeting nobody."

He noted that he liked the idea of focusing their initial efforts specifically on people who have been identified as diabetic, or pre-diabetic.

Jacobson also suggested the possibility of using public health screenings such as the Rotary Club's annual blood screening clinic -- which typically brings in about 2,800 people to the hospital each year -- to identify individuals who either have the disease, or are at high risk of getting it.

Monday's gathering was the second in a series of meetings that will be held over the next few months in order to develop a coordinated plan for addressing the community's health needs.

Additional meetings will be held to discuss access to health care and tobacco use prevention efforts. The ultimate aim is to develop a plan for addressing these needs by early summer.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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