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Obesity, tobacco costing billions to taxpayers

Prevention cheaper than treatment

September 22, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

SLEEPY EYE - Key elected and appointed officials learned about the rising cost of obesity and tobacco use Friday at a Bridging Brown County forum at the Brown County REA building.

Direct medical costs due to tobacco use cost Minnesotans $2.9 billion annually. Adult obesity costs Minnesotans $1.3 billion a year, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

Perhaps the Greek physician Herophilus said it best: "When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied."

"We have an obesity epidemic going on," said Bill Burleson, Communications Coordinator at the Minnesota Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives. "The average Minnesotan spends $7,000 a year on healthcare and very little on prevention...It's a community problem with community solutions. Sustainability is everything."

Burleson praised efforts like the farm to school program becoming popular in more and more schools that enables students to grow vegetables that wind up in their school lunches.

"Kids and school food service people just love farm to school programs," Burleson said. "It also cuts plate waste."

Melissa Hoffmann of the Brown County Public Health office praised the benefits of a garden used to grow school lunch food at Comfrey Public School. She said science, biology and agriculture classes are part of the project.

Hoffmann extolled the virtues of freedom from smoking classes, New Ulm Medical Center's Heart Beats Connection Program offering high-risk patients telephone coaching and Springfield Medical Center/Mayo Health Clinic's Healthier Weight to a Healthier You program that connects patients to dietitians.

She said good health makes people feel better, more productive, more pleasant to be around and communities that embrace health have a better chance at drawing new business and residents.

Hoffmann said moderate physical activity should include at least 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity at least three days a week.

The Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) budget was cut from $37 million to $15 million by the 2012 Minnesota Legislature.

"We need your support. This work is not done and funding needs to continue," Hoffmann added.

The Heart of New Ulm (HONU) Hearts Beat Back Project includes community education, medical intervention, environmental and policy changes in work sites and the health care community. More than two-thirds of survey respondents report some level of HONU engagement in the past year.

Major risk factors addressed are high cholesterol, blood pressure, nutrition, exercise and stress. Community heart health screenings were done on more than 5,000 people in 2009 and more than 3,200 to date this year.

Community health challenges focus on increasing activity, weight management and consuming fruits and vegetables. The FoodWorks program works with local restaurants, grocery and convenience stores to sell more healthy, affordable items plus the "What's Cooking New Ulm?" television show.

Sleepy Eye health and wellness programs include a Farmer's Market, Safety Day Camp, theme events plus nursing home, senior housing and assisted living events.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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