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Efforts to encourage healthy choices of St. Croix County residents continues

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Communities countywide are working together like never before.

On Nov. 15, members and guests of Healthier Together-St. Croix County gathered at Hudson Golf Club to share community health improvement updates and celebrate receipt of the Transform Wisconsin Active Communities Impact Grant.

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Over the past four years, Healthier Together initiatives have focused on bringing people together from across the county to address identified health priorities including: increased access to medical, dental and mental health services; obesity prevention; adequate and appropriate nutrition; alcohol and other substance abuse; and tobacco use and exposure.

"We need to improve health where it starts -- where we live, work, learn and play," said Wendy Kramer, public health officer and co-facilitator of Healthier Together. "Together, we will improve our communities so that making the choice to live a physically active, healthy lifestyle is easier for everyone."

The group's hard work is beginning to pay off and the impact is making a difference in St. Croix County communities.

The efforts include:

--K-6 after-school programs that work to increase physical activity, healthy eating and reconnection to the great outdoors;

--Fluoridation of water in those communities without;

--Development of a community garden model and pilot site for easy replication (three gardens launched in various communities);

--Increased participation in school free and reduced lunch programs;

--Continued compliance checks of tobacco "sales to minor" laws;

--Public and legislative education for increased support of, and compliance with, the 2010 Smoke Free Air Law;

--Area hospitals and clinics joining to create affordable, accessible and appropriate cessation "tobacco quit" programs;

--Continued efforts to reduce availability of alcohol to underage persons through parent and community education and support of Parents Who Host, Lose the Most events; and

--Work to increase community awareness of local mental health providers and services available, including the recent seminar series.

Community member and wellness consultant Katherine Lutz was drawn to Healthier Together because she's gotten to experience the beauty of the landscape, rivers, trails, and most importantly, the people of St. Croix County.

"People want to see their communities thrive and are calling on each other and the folks in the know (professionals, locals, civic and business leaders, etc.) to assist in making a difference for improving well-being and quality of life," Lutz said. "There's great energy and I want to be part of it!"

Wisconsin Farm to School

Meeting attendees learned about the Wisconsin Farm to School initiative from a group of students in the UW-River Falls Experiential Learning Course who are working in collaboration with Healthier Together.

The students talked about their efforts to help lay the groundwork for a successful Farm to School (F2S) program in St. Croix County.

The F2S program will connect schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias.

Grant funding

The Transform Wisconsin Active Communities funding received affords Healthier Together the opportunity to create and promote active communities in St. Croix County.

The $160,000 grant will be invested over 26 months to help increase physical activity in communities.

Healthier Together will continue bringing together new and existing partners to help transform St. Croix County.

The goal is to increase participation in the joint use agreements that Healthier Together has with five school districts, and to explore additional opportunities with area parks, Camp St. Croix and more.

Access to no-cost or low-cost places for physical activity and recreation is important to prevent obesity. Research shows that making recreation facilities more accessible to the public significantly increases a person's ability to be physically active.

Physical activity is critical to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle, as well as curbing chronic diseases. Nearly half of people in Wisconsin don't get the recommended amount of physical activity.

"Imagine your town -- lots of safe places to play and exercise. What does that look like to you? What role can you play as part of the solution?" asked Karen Hansen, community relations manager at Hudson Hospital & Clinics and co-facilitator of Healthier Together.

"It's the perfect time to partner together, make common-sense changes and select promising approaches that ensure healthy choices are within reach for all St. Croix families. We have lots of hard work to do over the next 26 months, and need your help," Hansen said.

Healthier Together-St. Croix County was one of 30 community coalitions around the state awarded Transform Wisconsin grants in an effort to create healthier places to live, work, learn and play.

An investment of $6.6 million is being made over 26 months with the goal of creating healthier communities and reducing preventable chronic diseases.

Transform Wisconsin is built on the idea that smoke-free air, fresh fruit and vegetables, and safe places to play should be available to everybody.

Eight communities, including St. Croix County, are receiving Transform Wisconsin grant funding to promote physical activity.

The Transform Wisconsin project will directly reach about half the state's population, more than 2.6 million residents.

All across the state, communities will be building on local efforts to improve health by empowering individuals to make healthier choices and preventing chronic disease. Transform Wisconsin grants are administered by the Wisconsin Clearinghouse for Prevention Services and funded by a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant through the Prevention and Public Health Fund.

Healthier Together-St. Croix County is looking for volunteers from across the county to join the newly forming Farm to School or Active Communities work groups.

For more information on Healthier Together-St. Croix County initiatives or the Transform Wisconsin grant contact Karen Hansen at 715-532-6056 or karen.m.hansen@hudsonhospital.org.

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