Monday, February 13, 2017

#BoldNorth Public Health

When talking with people about the work of public health, I often state that “if it’s not fun, it’s not public health.” That’s not to deny that the work of public health is serious, important, and sometimes challenging and difficult. On a daily basis Minnesota’s public health professionals address complex, life-threatening, and often traumatic situations that impact the health and well-being of everyone in our state; where the outcomes are sometimes distressing, disheartening, and devastating to individuals, families, and communities. When I talk about public health being “fun,” I am referring to the joy and satisfaction in the public health work that significantly impacts health and advances health equity and social justice.

But sometimes there really is boisterous fun in public health. Last week was one of those times. On Feb. 8, I helped kick off the 52 week run-up to next year’s Super Bowl which will be held in Minnesota. I did my part by hopping on a “fat tire” bike and pedaling with a group through the snow at Theodore Wirth Park while others snow-shoed, skied, or tubed down the hills. I can’t think of anything more fun than being outside with colleagues and friends in sunny 10 degree (my favorite temperature) weather and being physically active in the snow that gives Minnesota its identity, character and charm.

What made this event “fun” in public health parlance, was the fact that this was the first of 52 weekly events at which the Minnesota Super Bowl LII Legacy Fund Committee will make a health/wellness grant to a Minnesota community. With the theme of “Fuel, Fun, and Fundamentals,” the committee recognizes the importance of nutrition and physical activity to health and well-being and the need to build the community capacity to support those healthy behaviors throughout the state.

The first grant awarded was for $52,000 to the Loppet Foundation to build “The Trailhead: A Home for Year-Round Adventure.” The Trailhead will be a building at Wirth Park developed through a partnership of the Loppet Foundation and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to advance equity in outdoor recreation. Since 2002, the Loppet Foundation has engaged more than 12,000 students, including more than 9,000 from nearby North Minneapolis, in outdoor activities including mountain biking, cross country skiing, trail running, paddling and orienteering. The Trailhead will enhance those efforts.

The kick-off event included the presence of dozens of children from the North Minneapolis’ Lucy Laney Elementary School, who spent the afternoon tubing and enjoying the snow; healthy food from the Breaking Bread Café subsidiary of Appetite For Change, a North Minneapolis community-based nonprofit whose mission is to “use food as a tool to build health, wealth, and social change;” and fat tire bicycling instruction from Anthony Taylor, one of the founders of the Major Taylor Bicycling Club that advocates for increased biking in the African American community.

The event also highlighted how our “health in all policies” and “community engagement” efforts are paying dividends. In partnership with the Department of Health, the Department of Education, the National Dairy Council/NFL’s Fuel Up to Play 60, and others, the Super Bowl Legacy Grant Committee has worked to ensure all of Minnesota is included in these grants. With its presence in every Minnesota county, our Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), under the leadership of Chris Tholkes, was able to help communities make the most of this Super Bowl grant opportunity. MDH alerted SHIP grantees of the opportunity and SHIP staff convened local stakeholders from existing leadership teams – such as mayors, city administrators, county commissioners and community nonprofit partners – to identify potential health and wellness capital investment opportunities. The outcome of that work is that communities throughout the state will not only be receiving grants but also be better positioned to use the resources to meaningfully address health and wellness needs in their communities. The presence of SHIP in communities throughout the state was the perfect platform for developing this effort to create better health.

People rarely think of the Super Bowl as a healthy activity. Tons of Buffalo wings and oceans of beer consumed by millions of Americans watching professional athletes risk concussions and other serious injuries hardly screams public health. However, the Legacy Fund Committee under the overall Super Bowl LII theme of “Bold North” has implemented a bold initiative to use the hype of the big game to encourage healthy community activities statewide. Their unique capital project investments with the Loppet Foundation and 51 other partners across Minnesota will benefit the health of our state long after the Lombardi trophy is awarded (to the Vikings/Packers?). This initiative also presents an opportunity to challenge public health workers to implement and support bold and innovative policies and system changes that create better health for all. We just need to make sure that Bold North Public Health embraces the fun that brings joy and satisfaction to the important public health work that we do every day in creating a healthy state. Go Team!