EAGAN – Minnesota consistently ranks as one of the healthiest states in the nation, but health outcomes vary greatly depending on who you are and where you live. In an effort to address this, the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross) has awarded funding through two distinct initiatives: Communities Eliminating Tobacco Inequities and Health in All Policies. In total, the Center is committing approximately $4 million over the next three years to support initiatives aimed at reducing inequities and ensuring that more Minnesotans have an opportunity to live the healthiest lives possible.
"The challenges our state faces are multi-faceted and complex. A multi-sector approach is needed to close the gaps and improve the health of all Minnesotans," said Janelle Waldock, vice president of community initiatives and health equity at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. "What inspires me is the number of organizations that want to step forward and play a role. Blue Cross is proud to join with them to advance health equity within the state of Minnesota, both as a funder and as an active collaborator."
Addressing the disproportionately high use of commercial tobacco in some communities
Significant progress has been made to reduce both the adult and youth smoking rate in Minnesota. However, lower income areas, as well as communities of color, American Indian communities, and people with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders continue to smoke at disproportionately high rates, and are more frequently targeted by tobacco industry marketing. This puts these communities at a greater risk for premature death and disease, both through the direct impacts of smoking, as well as exposure to secondhand smoke.
Communities Eliminating Tobacco Inequities funding will support culturally specific efforts to raise awareness about the harms of commercial tobacco and influence policy changes within communities where these disparities exist. The following eight organizations have been awarded financial and technical assistance.
- American Lung Association in Minnesota will build awareness of tobacco's significant and disproportionate impact on people with mental illness and chemical dependency issues. The organization will also work with mental health and chemical treatment professionals to advocate for policy changes that support smoking cessation and reduce exposure to secondhand smoke within these populations.
- Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES) will engage with Latino community members in Richfield to provide education on the dangers of tobacco use and secondhand smoke. CLUES will also connect with multi-unit housing complex managers and owners of in-home daycare centers to promote the adoption of more comprehensive tobacco-free policies.
- Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota aims to change the cultural and social norms around tobacco in the Lao community by developing culturally appropriate education materials about the dangers of smoking. This information will be incorporated into the organization's ongoing conversations with community members.
- Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative will work with businesses and organizations in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood to adopt policies that support commercial tobacco-free environments, such as restricting smoking within a specific distance of entrances and exits, as well as creating healthy spaces in and around the buildings.
- Lower Sioux Indian Community will address the significant health disparities faced by American Indian communities. Their initiative will include an educational campaign differentiating commercial tobacco from traditional tobacco (which is used for religious, ceremonial or medicinal purposes), the expansion of the community's existing commercial tobacco bans and limiting the number of retail tobacco outlets.
- NorthPoint Health and Wellness will work with partners to seek improvements to the existing tobacco use policy in Minneapolis parks, which will allow everyone visiting a Minneapolis park to enjoy the amenities without potential exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Somali Health Solutions will increase awareness and understanding of the dangers associated with tobacco use, and present the information in culturally relevant ways. Through this effort, they aim to reduce the smoking rate and exposure to secondhand smoke within the Somali community.
- WellShare International will work with the Karen Organization of Minnesota (KOM) to address the disproportionately high use of tobacco in the Karen community. Their initiative will focus on building momentum and support for tobacco-free policies in apartment buildings and at outdoor community events.
Advancing health equity through collaboration outside the health sector
Many of the complex factors that significantly impact our health fall outside the traditional purview of the health care sector. Factors such as neighborhood layout, access to healthy foods and access to jobs, educational and recreational opportunities all have a significant impact on our overall wellbeing.
A "Health in All Policies" approach ensures that leaders and policymakers integrate health and equity considerations when developing, implementing and evaluating policies and services. It also recognizes the importance of collaboration across sectors and the involvement of many non-traditional partners. Health in All Policies is not just about changing one policy, it's about changing the systems that affect all policies.
Funding from the Center for Prevention will help the following eight organizations advocate for this approach within their spheres of influence.
- Alliance for Metropolitan Stability will develop a campaign and toolkit focused on equitable development within low wealth communities and communities of color in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
- Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) will address environmental and other factors contributing to health disparities among residents of the Little Mekong/Frogtown area of St. Paul.
- Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) will work in the east side of St. Paul to ensure decisions related to food procurement consider potential health and equity impacts.
- HOPE Community will focus on bringing sustainable change to the Minneapolis Parks system, ensuring it is better resourced and accessible to all residents, especially those who live in low income communities with large populations of color.
- ISAIAH will focus on building support and momentum for the adoption of a Health in All Policies approach within several key cities across Minnesota.
- Nexus Community Partners will create an equity-based framework for decision making and educate policy makers on the need for policies that consider health, especially in communities facing significant disparities, such as the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis.
- Voices for Racial Justice will convene communities of color and the American Indian community to create strategies and accountability tools aimed at advancing health equity.
- Zeitgeist Center for Arts & Community will drive a regional health equity agenda by engaging health systems, local government, school districts and nonprofit organizations throughout the Duluth area.
All funding recipients were selected through a competitive process that included an initial application and a formal Request for Proposals. In addition, site visits were conducted for organizations receiving Communities Eliminating Tobacco Inequities funding. Funding will be awarded over the next one to three years depending on the scope of each initiative. Additional information on these initiatives and their progress will be updated periodically on CenterforPreventionMN.com.
About the Center for Prevention
The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota delivers on Blue Cross' long-term commitment to improve the health of all Minnesotans by tackling the leading root causes of preventable disease: tobacco use, lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating. Funded through proceeds from Blue Cross' historic lawsuit against the tobacco industry, they collaborate with organizations statewide to increase health equity, transform communities and create a healthier state. Visit CenterforPreventionMN.com for more information.
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (bluecrossmn.com), with headquarters in the St. Paul suburb of Eagan, was chartered in 1933 as Minnesota's first health plan and continues to carry out its charter mission today as a health company: to promote a wider, more economical and timely availability of health services for the people of Minnesota. Blue Cross is a not-for-profit, taxable organization. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, headquartered in Chicago.