EAGAN, Minn. (Sept. 23, 2014) — People across Minnesota acknowledge that their surroundings sometimes hinder their ability to make healthy choices, but barriers are more prominent in the state’s rural areas, according to a poll commissioned by The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
Among the challenges: limited access to healthy, affordable food and a lack of places where people can walk or bike safely and easily. About 60 percent of rural Minnesotans who responded to the poll said accessing places to shop for healthy, affordable food is not very easy, compared to 47 percent of urban residents and 54 percent of suburban residents. More than half of all respondents said limited sidewalks and trails have at least some impact on their ability to make healthy choices, including those who live in urban (53 percent), suburban (57 percent) or rural (59 percent) areas of the state.
Overall, when asked to grade their communities based on whether they made healthy choices easy, only 27 percent of rural Minnesota residents gave their communities an “A,” while 31 percent of urban and 44 percent of suburban residents gave their communities the top grade.
“With fertile farmland and open spaces, it may seem that our state’s rural areas would offer advantages when it comes to promoting a healthy lifestyle,” said Janelle Waldock, director of the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. “These can definitely be benefits, but people in more remote communities also face distinct challenges, such as limited access to stores that offer affordable, healthy food year-round, and roads that weren’t designed to accommodate walkers or bikers. The positive news is that we’re seeing models emerge across the Minnesota which address these barriers in ways that are community-driven and appropriate for the areas in which they’re implemented.”
Barriers are also prominent in urban and suburban areas. Urban residents were most likely to say that not being able to walk to work or school hindered their ability to make healthy choices. Suburban residents most frequently cited a lack of access to stores with affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, and not being able to bike to work or school.
Yet despite their differences, nearly all Minnesotans surveyed agree that there are benefits associated with creating healthier communities, including more time with family, improved student achievement and increased stability. Rural Minnesotans also cite lower unemployment levels, while urban Minnesotans consider less poverty as a primary benefit.
Taking action statewide
The poll was conducted as part of the Center for Prevention’s “Pulling Together Minnesota” campaign, which aims to expand conversations about health to include the role our surroundings and communities play. The campaign also features Minnesotans who are collaborating with others to address barriers and make their communities healthier places. People are encouraged to visit PullingTogetherMN.com to learn more about the campaign and see real stories of Minnesotans pulling together.
While the barriers faced by urban, suburban and rural Minnesotans are similar, the solutions can look very different. In the Twin Cities, Roots for the Home Team is partnering with community gardens to teach youth about healthy eating, while also providing a healthy and nutritious option for people attending Minnesota Twins baseball games. In rural Minnesota, the community of Alexandria used a complete streets approach to revitalize their downtown, make it more safe and welcoming for pedestrians and bicyclists, and to attract people who were utilizing a new state trail. And in Bemidji, where community members and elected officials have worked together to make their city more bike friendly, a new model is being tested. Nice Ride’s Bemidji program differs significantly from their metro bike share system, but has a similar goal of helping people see biking as a viable transportation option.
Likewise, a statewide initiative can have appeal regardless of geography. Safe Routes to School programs are helping students in communities like Minneapolis, Hopkins and Pipestone increase their physical activity levels. However the approach is customized to enable students in urban, suburban and rural areas to benefit from the program, regardless of the setting in which they live.
“These initiatives demonstrate the power of people coming together at the local level to create a healthier Minnesota, one city and town at a time. We applaud the community members, elected officials, local businesses, schools and others who are working together to make positive and sustainable changes that will ultimately improve peoples’ health while also creating stronger, more vital communities in the long run,” said Waldock.