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Crow Wing Energized to make a healthier community

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According to a three-year average of county health rankings and trends, Crow Wing County is getting worse in terms of physical inactivity and adult obesity.

In recent years, the top leading causes of death in the county were cancer, heart disease and stroke.

A group of residents is determined to change those trends. Those top three killers are often preventable and linked to lifestyle choices. Making a change there will take more than a short burst of interest. Instead they are looking at a movement.

About 63,000 people call Crow Wing County home. Of those residents 15 percent report being in poor to fair health compared to a state average of 11 percent.

Both Crow Wing County and Essentia Health were individually looking at community health assessments. They shared a goal for community wellness. And when they looked at common areas, they saw a possibility for a joint effort. They wrote a grant with a framework of ideas. Their pairing successfully gained a $100,000 Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) planning grant to propel a community effort forward.

“We truly are trying to create an umbrella,” said Adam Rees, Essentia Health president, adding the partnerships are what will make this effort to spark community wellness successful.

To show its commitment to move the project forward, Essentia Health offered to pay half the salary of a SHIP coordinator for the effort.

To accelerate a movement, Rees said a coordinator is essential and a tremendous asset to see faster change. Good intentions, he said, still need someone to do the follow-ups and be the glue holding it all together.

Enter Cassie Carey, the SHIP coordinator, who is a registered nurse, and a certified health coach with a decade of experience in health education, physical education and coaching.

Through community meetings and volunteer committees, four major goal groups were identified:

• Healthy choices.

• Mental fitness.

• Workplace wellness.

• Community connections.

There have been successful pairings previously using SHIP funding, such as bringing farm fresh produce into the school lunch menu. It was met with skepticism. But now 40 area farmers grow food for area school children.

In 2013, the Brainerd School District bought more than 20,000 pounds of locally grown food for school lunches.

But changing entire lifestyles may be a tougher nut to crack.

Americans didn’t move to sedentary lifestyles overnight. Automobiles, office work, electronic entertainment, fast food and fast-paced stressful living — it’s all part of the mix.

Changing that to have a more active and healthy populace isn’t expected to be a short-term project.

The goals are lofty. Improve the overall health of the community by decreasing obesity and increasing physical activity. Those changes alone can increase longevity with both physical and mental health benefits.

While few deny the benefits of an active lifestyle and healthy weights, changing a single life isn’t easy let alone an entire community.

Even those involved in the early steps of Crow Wing Energized don’t expect things to change quickly. They are thinking out 10 and 20 years.

If it wasn’t really hard to do, Rees said, it would already be done.

“Movements take a lot of time and all successful movements are all grassroots. That’s what we are trying to do.”

Often the easy choice is the one that isn’t healthy, like the quick bite eaten at the office desk, or the couch after a stressful day on the job.

Success, they note, will come in making the healthy choices the easier choice. Rees, Carey and Gwen Anderson, Crow Wing County health and social service division manager, are convinced this could be the answer. Rees and Anderson are co-chairs for the steering committee. “I think Crow Wing County is ready for this movement,” Anderson said.

So ready, about 65 people showed up on a snowy and cold winter day for a community health summit last February. Rees said the turnout showed him this was going to be the start of something big here.

The group came up with a name for the community wellness effort — Crow Wing Energized. Devoid of a single organization as an identity, the hope is it will serve as a draw for a broad scope of ideas.

Examples of success

Carey said the Farm to School project is a good example as cooks made the change from frozen vegetables to farm fresh food. Initial reaction was it would never work.

To help facilitate the change, Chef Tom Kavanaugh went into the school kitchen to show how sauteing retains nutrients. They also learned how much display played a role. Whole apples sat untouched. Sliced apples enticed kids more. Efforts also went into showing people how to sustain their own home gardens. Anderson said other efforts are going into making Brainerd a more walkable and bikeable community.

Not every idea has to be an earth shaker to be successful.

In Mower County’s version of community wellness called Mower Refreshed, a group got together to work on mental wellness, looking at how stress and anxiety worked with unhealthy behavioral choices.

They developed a program to reduce stress called Take 5 with simple relaxation techniques of imaging and deep breathing, which found broad appeal. Austin School Children participated, creating their own artworks to depicting what Take 5 meant to them. Rees said he was amazed at all the ways it was used and later marketed with a key chain as a reminder to Take 5 and take care of texts before driving.

Rees said that and more could happen here.

The planning grant funds efforts through June 30. The implementation phase begins July 1.

Carey said 10 years from now, she hopes to be able to look at how much this movement helped change.

It’s a movement, they said, anyone can join and be responsible for their own personal healthy living goals amid the community effort.

Miranda Anderson, Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center marketing director, said healthy choices build on each other. After making three or four healthy choices, whether it’s picking fruit versus a bag of chips or working out instead of being a couch potato, the next four or five healthy choices are easier.

Anderson said: “I think we all want to feel we are making good choices.”

And this summer, Crow Wing Energized will help provide that spark.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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