Friday, March 23, 2012

"Local lunch day" shows benefits of 2008 health reforms

In March, Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger visited Woodland Elementary School in Eagan to get an on-the-ground look at some of the effects of Minnesota’s landmark health care reform law passed in 2008.

Back in 2008, Minnesota policy makers recognized that in order to contain spiraling health care costs, investments in prevention were needed. With bipartisan support, Minnesota passed a ground-breaking health reform law that included SHIP. Two-year SHIP grants were awarded on July 1, 2009 to all 53 community health boards and nine of 11 tribal governments. Grants were awarded through a competitive process for statewide investments of $20 million in 2010 and $27 million in 2011.

That effort has resulted in significant changes in places like Dakota County and Woodland Elementary School in Eagan.

Woodland Elementary School in Eagan is one of the many schools partnering with the Minnesota Department of Health to improve the local economy and school lunches by using locally grown foods. The school has taken advantage of several state initiatives, such as Great Trays, Farm to School, and Safe Routes to School.

These programs have helped the school to improve its lunches. Ehlinger joined second-graders for the school’s “local lunch day,” that included fruits, broccoli, and a serving of wheat berry salad made from whole-grain wheat grown locally by Indian Harvest of Bemidji. He visited a classroom to talk about nutrition and to watch a presentation by Indian Harvest Chef Coleen Donnelly, who created the wheat berry salad recipe and specializes in making healthy meals that are popular with kids.

The SHIP program recently filed a report with the Legislature that found that during the program’s first two years, Farm to School efforts are increasing access to local produce in at least 367 schools and 22 school districts across Minnesota, serving more than 200,000 students.

In addition, at least 117 schools serving 77,000 students, across the state are actively engaged in implementing Safe Routes to School, which increases opportunities and support for youth to walk or bike to school.

With childhood obesity rates tripling over the past three decades, action is needed and improving school lunches is key strategy for fighting this epidemic.

“Obesity is one of the most urgent health challenges facing our state and nation today,” Ehlinger said. “To fight, obesity we need to invest in children’s nutrition, and Woodland school is a great example of the health department, local public health officials, and schools working together to provide children nutritious food that tastes great.”