Confronting Barriers to a Healthy Life

Updated: 06/04/2014 11:10 PM
Created: 06/04/2014 4:00 PM
By: Brittany Falkers

We all know that an apple is a healthier choice than a bag of chips for your afternoon snack, but for many finding that fresh produce on a regular basis is easier said than done. 

A recent poll by Blue Cross Blue Shield's Center for Prevention takes a look at how where we work and play impacts our health.  The results: While Minnesotans say being healthy has a lot to do with personal choice, they also encounter barriers that stand in their way.

The Center for Prevention is now teaming up with local organizations around the state to address these barriers and find solutions through their "Pulling Together Minnesota" campaign.  It aims to build awareness of this issue and illustrate how our surroundings can sometimes stand in the way of making healthy choices.
"The purpose of the pulling together Minnesota campaign it really is to expand the way Minnesotans think and talk about health," Janelle Waldock, director of the Center for Prevention, said.

Locally, the center is working with the Healthy Duluth Area Coalition. Lisa Luokkala is the director and sees these issues first hand - such as the food desert in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood.

"If folks don't own their own personal vehicle, there's a lot of struggle to access healthy food on a regular basis," Luokkala said.  

In a recent poll commissioned by Blue Cross Blue Shield, 91 percent of Minnesotans said healthy choices are the sole responsibility of individuals. However, when asked what makes it difficult for them to live a healthy lifestyle, many identified barriers in their environment.

"We know that there's a deeply held perception that our health is all about will power and the personal decisions that we make. Yet, we know and the science increasingly shows that the surroundings - so where we spend our time, where we work and play - increasingly plays a role in whether or not we have the option of making healthy choices," Waldock said. 

More than half of Minnesotans polled said the following obstacles exist in their communities:

Not being able to walk to work or School - 58 percent

Limited sidewalks and trails where they live - 57 percent

Not being able to bike to work or school - 57 percent

Difficulty getting to stores with affordable fresh fruits and vegetable - 55 percent

Not feeling safe biking where they live - 52 percent

Luokkala says she sees similar problems in our own backyard.  "Locally here in Duluth we took similar survey of Lincoln Park.  We found out that over 40 percent of the neighborhood felt food insecure or has barriers to food access."

The Healthy Duluth Area Coalition is working to break down those barriers by increasing healthy access options.  The group wants other people, who don't face these barriers to realize that people are a product of their environment.  Without healthy opportunities in your environment a community cannot thrive, Luokkala said.

"That's one reason why  locally we're trying to increase healthy food options through the Lincoln Park Farmers Market," Luokkala said. "Encouraging people to grow their own and cook their own food." 

Taking advantage of and improving on the city's trail systems are also a great way to get active and combat barriers, according to Luokkala. She says it's also up to individuals to take charge and learn how to use healthy food in a cost effective way.

"Sometimes it's as easy as taking a few classes and just learning about shopping on a budget and cooking on a budget," Luokkala said.

Making these changes in the community can make a big difference to reduce the prevalence of preventable diseases like obesity and type two diabetes.  It can also have a big impact on the well-being of individuals and the whole community.

In the poll Minnesotans cited other advantages, including:

More time with family - 85 percent

Improved student achievement - 79 percent

More stability - 77 percent

Less poverty - 75 percent

Lower unemployment rates - 73 percent

Less crime - 70 percent

Fewer burdens on those that are already healthy - 66 percent

Learn more about the "Pulling Together Minnesota" campaign to hear more local stories for individuals making a difference.

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