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Minnesota announces health improvement grant awards

Area counties have received a share of $47 million in state grants to help fight chronic disease.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced the inaugural Statewide Health Improvement Program grant awards Wednesday afternoon. The money was appropriated by the Minnesota Legislature in 2008 as part of its health care reform initiative.

The Statewide Health Improvement Program takes aim at tobacco use, physical inactivity and poor nutrition, which are considered among the top three causes of preventable illness and death in the United States.

Among the grant recipients are:

- Countryside Community Health Board, $498,000 for planning and assessment. Countryside Community Health includes the counties of Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine.

- Kandiyohi County Community Health Board, $427,000 to implement several prevention initiatives at schools, day care sites, work sites and the community. One initiative will be to develop tobacco-free policies for schools and local parks, beaches and playgrounds. Another will focus on policies and practices that improve access to nutritious food.

- Meeker-McLeod-Sibley Community Health Board, $659,000 for planning and assessment.

- Redwood-Renville Co-mmunity Health Board, $705,000 for planning and assessment in partnership with the Cottonwood-Jackson Community Health Board.

- Stearns County Human Services Board, $917,000 for planning and assessment.

- Upper Sioux Community, $153,000 for planning and assessment.

Prevention programs have historically focused on individual behavior change. Many of these initiatives were difficult to sustain in the long term once the program or the individual's involvement in the program ended.

State officials are trying a different approach with the Statewide Health Improvement Program. The goal is to create sustainable, systemic change by making it easier for people to incorporate physical activity and healthful nutrition in their daily lives.