MN slims its obesity rate

Minnesotans’ waistlines are shrinking.
As the nation’s average obesity rate rises, the state’s statistic is on the decline, according to a study released Monday by the Minnesota Department of Health.
Health experts credit the slim drop to Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program, an initiative that provides grants to communities across Minnesota for programs aimed at increasing residents’ health. 
The state’s obesity rate was at 25.5 percent in 2013, slightly below the 25.7 rates in 2012, and running well below neighboring states by as much as nearly 6 percent.
“As we continue to see a significant portion of the population falling into that category [of obesity], it’s going to continue to lead to chronic illnesses that cost the state and the individuals a lot of money,” said Bette Dougherty, a University of Minnesota public health administration and policy master’s student 
Factors like marketing tools used in the food industry and the absence of outdoor pedestrian paths could affect the obesity rates and be a reason for the higher numbers in other states, said Sarah Gollust, a University public health policy and management assistant professor.
“We aren’t going to make a difference nationally in obesity rates until local 
communities create environments where the healthy choice is the easy choice to make,” she said.
Though experts say Minnesota’s obesity numbers have been on the rise over the past couple of decades, the recent decline shows somewhat of a plateau, contributing to an estimated $265 million savings in obesity-related medical costs.
“It’s the attention to the environment that has really helped,” Gollust said. 
Across the state, 3,100 sites like schools, businesses and hospitals in nearly every county have implemented SHIP since its start in 2008, said Julie Myhre, director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives. 
SHIP gives a total of $17.5 million to statewide communities to implement the program. Minneapolis alone was allocated more than $1.8 million in the last two years.
“There’s a place for everyone to be a part of the solution to try to address obesity,” Myhre said. “It’s that collective effort that will be able to make a difference.”
Public health administration and policy master’s student Dougherty is writing her thesis on the SHIP program and said she’s discovered the program continuously works to focus on the individual needs of each community.
The program includes initiatives across the state that aim to increase bike paths, farmers markets and schools’ access to healthy, local food, University professor Gollust said.
But no one SHIP initiative can be credited for the state’s improving obesity rate.
“It’s a constellation,” Gollust said.
The program has contributed to individuals’ heightened awareness of eating well and exercising, she said.
The University has also seen a decline in obesity, from 9 percent in 2010 to about 8 percent in 2013. 
Still, stress, inconsistent eating patterns and all-you-can-eat meal plans in college can lead to weight gain, said Katie Kasner, a registered dietician. 
She’s also an adviser for the University’s Student Nutrition Advocacy Collaborative, which offers students at-home cooking classes and grocery store tours to teach about healthy eating.
“We know that when young people are obese, they’re at higher risk of being obese as an adult,” she said.