By Josh Moniz
---- — MADELIA – Taking a note from similar initiatives appearing across the country, the community of Madelia is launching an innovative program aimed at getting people to put down their sugary sodas and pick up healthy alternatives.
The program is seeking to impact the growing obesity and diabetes rates in Watonwan County, particularly since soda consumption has been linked to these problems.
The initiative is funded by a $57,000 grant from Minnesota's Statewide Health Improvement program. The grant was only a small part of the $35 million that SHIP allocated to Minnesota counties in November. The larger overall funding by SHIP will help counties establish different programs that tackle the leading causes of chronic disease: tobacco usage and obesity.
Madelia’s program was proposed after the Madelia Community Hospital & Clinic collaborated with Minnesota State University to create a Community Needs Assessment report for the city. The report showed Watonwan County had an obesity rate of 26.8 percent, compared to statewide average of 26 percent, and a diabetes rate of 7.7 percent, compared to the statewide average of 6.5 percent. The Madelia Community-Based Collaborative, which compromised of Madelia resident from the hospital, local business and other community groups, submitted a proposal for the program along with the local requests for SHIP grants.
Chera Sevcik, who supervises the SHIP grants for Faribault, Martin and Watonwan counties, said the program is entirely voluntary and focuses on partnerships with local organizations.
She said the biggest component of the program is working with local schools and businesses to increase availability of healthy beverage options, such as water. She said they are using a portion of the grant funding to help these organizations added healthy options to their vending machines or concession stands.
“Making these options available can impact what people pick at the vending machine," Sevcik said.
She said the other big component of the program is a public education campaign about the health impacts of sugary soda. She said the grant funding will be used to maintain a part-time position to run the program and to distribute the information to community members.
Finally, the program's goal is to increase consumption of water, which is tied into the work being performed by all components of the program.
Sevcik said they expect to finalize the formal plan for the program and launch operations in March or April.
According to a report by the Minnesota Department of Health, sugar-sweetened beverages account for 20 percent of the increase in average U.S. weight since 1977. The drinks also account for 33 percent of calories from added sugar in adults and 40 percent of calories from added sugar in children. The report also notes that youths and adults regularly exceeded their recommended daily calories from added sugar intake just on their consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports obesity rates have doubled from 1980s to 2004 with the rate tripling among children and adolescence during that period.