State Program Aimed at Cutting the Fat, Could Be Cut to the Bone
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Lawmakers return from their spring break next week, and among the budget decisions still to be resolved is whether to continue funding the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). The program has already seen its budget slashed by more than two-thirds.
Julie Seiber, SHIP coordinator, St. Paul Ramsey County Public Health, said the cuts are short-sighted, because the return on investment is huge when the growing obesity epidemic is reduced.
"We'll do that by making healthy food and opportunities for physical activity available to all the residents of Minnesota and also work to reduce exposure to tobacco," Seiber said. "Both of those things are related to reducing the incidence of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes."
In its first two-year cycle, SHIP received $47 million. That was cut to $15 million for the current biennium, and some lawmakers now want the funding totally eliminated, saying it has not had any measurable effect.
Since its inception, the Statewide Health Improvement Program has contributed to hundreds of projects each tailored to a community's needs, supporters said, from smoke-free policies to workplace wellness programs. Seiber said it has also helped get locally grown food into more than 400 schools and into the hands of those who may not always have access to fresh produce.
"As far as SHIP is concerned, we've been trying to bring it in to the families through the St. Paul Farmer's Market," she explained, "and having the market venders accept electronic benefit transfer (EBT) payment from the SNAP supplemental food program so that low-income families could have access to it."
Similar efforts are under way across the state, including in Jackson County. That's where longtime farmer Bill Brandt is working with SHIP to get fresh, healthy foods into schools and to the business community.
"The health of our citizens has gotten worse over time," Brandt said, "and with the growing of vegetables, I see how important it is to bring them more into our diet."
The Minnesota Department of Health has warned that obesity is one of the most serious public health concerns facing the state today. Nationally, more than two-thirds of adults and almost one-third of children are considered overweight or obese.
More information is available from the Minnesota Department of Health at http://www.health.state.mn.us/ship/.