Learning from the Land of 10,000 Lakes

While I was visiting relatives in the Minneapolis area over the Labor Day Weekend the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report that was the bane of visiting cheese heads.

The foundation listed Minnesota along with New York, Montana and Ohio as the only states that saw an actual reduction in adult obesity. Wisconsin remained steady at 31% of adults classified as obese while Minnesota saw their already lower percentage go down further to 26%.

Obesity has long been a national epidemic. According to RWJ:

“Adult obesity rates now exceed 35 percent in four states, 30 percent in 25 states and are above 20 percent in all states. Louisiana has the highest adult obesity rate at 36.2 percent and Colorado has the lowest at 20.2 percent.”

But the big news was that this was the first time in a decade that obesity levels declined anywhere at all.

And Minnesota officials attributed their progress in part to cycling. That’s because encouragement of active transportation is part of Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). Launched in 2008 as part of the state’s comprehensive response to sky rocketing health care costs, SHIP has invested $130 million in local programs in each of the state’s 87 counties.

Young Vikings fans walk to school safely thanks to Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program.

These grants have been used to do things like promote local farmers markets, improve the healthy choices in school cafeterias and build more bike and pedestrian paths. The SHIP program also lists complete streets policies and safe routes to school programs as parts of its strategy.

As Wisconsinites we’re proud of our cheese, brats and beer. Nothing wrong with that as long as we moderate our consumption and mix in some healthy vegetables and fruits along the way. And there’s also nothing wrong with watching the Packers beat the Vikings on TV, but a relaxing and invigorating bike ride after the game might be just the ticket.

And eating better and getting more physically active benefits everyone. In fact, RWJ estimates that if Minnesotans reduced their average body mass index by just 5% it would save $4 billion in health care costs over ten years.

Look Packers fans, if Minnesotans can do it, we can do it better. The Bike Fed will be looking into Minnnesota’s SHIP program to see if we can replicate it here and with similar good results.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Director Emeritus

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

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