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Surgeon General: Making health fun is the key

September 30, 2012
By Josh Moniz - Staff Writer ( , The Journal

NEW ULM - Making people "joyful" and excited about healthy activities was the focus of Saturday's speech by U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin during the New Ulm Area Day of Play held at Martin Luther College.

The Day of Play event is part of a world-wide event started by the children's channel Nickelodeon to get kids outside and away from televisions through fun activities. Martin Luther College hosted the event on its grounds in partnership with Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project and the New Ulm Medical Center. Several hundred children turned out Saturday to participate in activities ranging from an inflatable wall climb to dancing with The Narren to hula hoops.

This year's event was organized around the visit by the U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. The Surgeon General arrived in Minnesota on Friday to participate in a health conference hosted by the University of St. Thomas on Friday in Minneapolis. Her visit was generated a grass-roots effort by students of former Sen. Dave Durenberger's class. She provided the closing remarks for a forum that included representatives from the New Ulm Medical Center.

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Benjamin's visit to New Ulm was a side trip put together due to her interest in seeing the implementation of the Heart of New Ulm Project. Since she has been pushing for events with healthy activities to be organized around her visits, the Day of Play was set to coincide with her visit. She gave a public speech, which concluded with her signaling the start of the Day of Play.

Prevention as

the way forward

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Staff photo by Josh Moniz
U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin danced with The Narren on Saturday during her visit to New Ulm for the New Ulm Area Day of Play at Martin Luther College. The event was part of a world-wide event to encourage children to participate in more outdoor activities.

During her speech, Benjamin said the key to encouraging people to maintain a healthy lifestyles is showing them how to "find joy" in their activities.

"We have to stop telling people what they can't do, what they can't have and what they can't eat. We need to tell them about the healthy things they can do," said Benjamin, "We tell people they have to be more active and eat healthier. But, we have to also make it easier for them."

She said that preventative health initiatives was the foundation of her work as Surgeon General, and that encourage people to seek the healthy behaviors on their own is key.

She explained that even tackling the leading cause of death from chronic diseases could be accomplished by encouraging people to address four easily modifiable activities: lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use and excessive drinking.

"American families are just starting to deal with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, and the tragic toll [these diseases] take on them personally and financially," said Benjamin, "Approximately 50 percent of all adults now have at least one chronic diseases. In 2012, more than 800,000 Americans will die from heart disease. The overall cost from treating cardiovascular disease is estimated at more than $444 billion each year."

She said that people will ultimately adopt the healthier lifestyles needed if they can be shown it is fun.

Benjamin also praised the work of the Heart of New Ulm Project, the 10-year initiative by the New Ulm Medical Center to reduce the number of heart attacks and other health factors in New Ulm. She said that the project is big step in making the community of New Ulm healthier.

"This is a great start and the idea is to keep it growing. [The Heart of New Ulm Project] will is going to prevent heart attacks and keep people healthy. In the long run, it will save lives," said Benjamin.

She said that part of the Heart of New Ulm's success is likely due to it occurring in a small town. She said that important things can be accomplished in large cities, but a close-knit small town can encourage each other to come together to create a lifestyle movement in its community.

Benjamin said that she chairs the National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council established by the Affordable Care Act, which is seeking to implement a national health prevention strategy. She said the Heart of New Ulm Project offers exactly what a number of the initiatives are seeking to encourage. She said her department is pushing to have other communities adopt programs similar to the Heart of New Ulm.

Finally, Benjamin addressed the importance of smoking prevention, particularly with how big of an impact it makes on public health. She said that emphasis needed to be put on smoking prevention for college campuses like Martin Luther College. She said that colleges are major source of developing smoking after age 18.

"Every day, 1,200 Americans die from smoking," said Benjamin, "While it's illegal to market or advertise to 18 and under, it's not illegal to target age 18 to 26."

She said that keeping young people from smoking for the first time in college is key. She said that even just keeping them from ever smoking before age 26 could make a big difference. She said that ideal actions would be for campuses to make their grounds smoke-free.

Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at



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