Crow Wing County commissioners continued to voice their support for Crow Wing Energized, a grassroots community health and wellness movement led and funded by Crow Wing County, Essentia Health and the Statewide Health Improvement Program.

"We're bringing community leaders together to make the healthy choice the easy choice," Community Services Division Manager Kara Griffin told the board at its Tuesday, Jan. 15, committee of the whole meeting.

The most recent Crow Wing County Community Health Survey found, among residents who responded, 65.7 percent of adults were not eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables and 64.1 percent were not meeting physical activity recommendations.

"We continue to have a discrepancy in what we think we believe that we're healthy, but the majority of us actually continue to struggle with obesity, high blood pressure, and poor eating and exercise habits," Griffin said.

Commissioner Paul Koering said, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. ... They're just not going to change the way they operate. Some people will, and some people won't."

Crow Wing Energized priorities

Crow Wing Energized's priorities for 2019 were based on a 2017 survey of county residents and shared with the board. Those priorities include: obesity, physical inactivity and poor nutrition, reduction of tobacco use, falls prevention, mental fitness, and advanced care directives.

"It's hard for me to become more physically active when I have such a sedentary job, sitting down all the time at work. Or the way I eat-I love potato chips-and on and on," said Adam Rees, Essentia Health-Central president. "I think we get that, but at the same time, you know, we do really want to make a difference. We want to make a difference for everyone in the community."

Crow Wing Energized launched the National Diabetes Prevention Program lifestyle change program, for example, which is facilitated by certified lifestyle coaches who are volunteers.

"On average, since 2014, participants have lost 6.57 percent of their body weight," Griffin said.

Other findings of the latest county community health survey found tobacco use has increased since 2014 from 17.6 percent to 23.3 percent with fewer people trying to quit, 37.8 percent have high blood pressure and 66 percent of respondents were overweight or obese.

Koering shares own struggles

According to the survey, depression and anxiety are more common, however, than diabetes. In the county, 28.2 percent of adults were impacted by mental illness, which was the impetus of last year's Make It OK community campaign.

"Make It OK is all about trying to reduce the stigma around mental illness. ... The point of Make It OK is to help people talk about it and reduce the stigma. The idea behind it is if we can reduce the stigma, people can get help a whole lot sooner," Rees said.

Following last year's death of 16-year-old Brainerd High School student Jake Haapajoki, friends, family and the community banded together to offer support, share their stories and to begin the discussion on not only the stigma but also what needs to be done to address the issues.

"We had a bit of a spike in suicides recently, especially we've had some very unfortunate situations with our youth, our teens," said Rees, who was part of a May panel discussion featuring community and business leaders who shared their personal mental health journeys.

Koering, who is openly gay, said he was afraid to tell his parents about his sexual orientation.

"I had some deep, dark thoughts. ... And for 12 years, I did all the coroner transports for Crow Wing County. I picked up a lot of younger people who committed suicide, and all of those thoughts would come pouring back," Koering said emotionally.

The Make It OK campaign aims to "change the hearts and minds about the misperceptions of mental illnesses by encouraging open conversations and education on the topic."

"When somebody-a loved one, a co-worker, a neighbor-has cancer, it doesn't take long before the community rallies. They're baking food and all sorts of stuff. ... With mental illness, it's different. It's something that we just don't want to talk about. We want to avoid," Rees said.

Health & Wellness Summit

The sixth annual Health & Wellness Summit will take place 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. March 1 at Lakewood Evangelical Free Church in Baxter. The public is invited to participate in the facilitated working session focused on creating change through identifying barriers and creating solutions.

"This year's Crow Wing Energized summit, we're not bringing in an expert in some health-related matter," Rees said.

Christine Chastain, a cultural anthropologist, will be the summit's keynote speaker and facilitator. She has helped Fortune 500 brands, government agencies and nonprofits align in vision, strategy, and implementation.

"She's an expert in design. I've worked with her when we developed an earlier version of Crow Wing Energized in the Mower County area in southeastern Minnesota helping us, as a modern community, figure out how do we engage one another-our loved ones, our neighbors, our friends-to make that transformation," Rees said.

Crow Wing Energized's guiding principles include collaboration with stakeholders such as schools, work sites, and health care providers, and prioritizing evidence-based efforts around "greatest community good" that can be achieved through available resources.

"Any efforts to change the culture in our communities is welcomed," Commissioner Steve Barrows said.

"And I think that to Commissioner Koering's point earlier, we're never going to get 100 percent participation or buy-in, but I think that should not preclude us from attempting, and that's what we're doing. We're investing in our community, and I think that's the important message here."