Commissioners: Promote, don't police, healthy living
Government can promote healthy eating, but should not regulate Big Macs and snacks.
So said Washington County commissioners today when they voted to accept a $1.53 million state health grant. The funds are part of a State Health Improvement Program aimed at curbing tobacco use and obesity.
Commissioners debated whether government would be intruding on people's lifestyle choices and whether the program can be effective.
Over the next two years the county will work with area schools, employers and health-care experts to create and promote exercise and healthy-living programs. The grant requires a 10 percent match, which could come from a variety of local sources and may not require taxpayer dollars.
Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek of Oakdale opposed the grant, arguing that the County Board would not approve of spending property tax revenue on the program, so should not accept state funds. The $1.53 million grant is paid largely through a state tax on health-care providers.
Pulkrabek said the program will not work and "smacks of the government knows best."
Board Chairwoman Myra Peterson of Cottage Grove said while the program may not be a priority if it was funded with county tax revenue, the grant is available and it would be "somewhat foolish" to turn it down.
The program fits in with one of county government's core missions: to provide its residents with information in libraries and elsewhere, Commissioner Lisa Weik of Woodbury said. Weik applauded efforts to prevent poor health, but said government must not "interfere" with personal decisions.
Obesity is a problem, so the county should participate in the new program, said Commissioner Gary Kriesel, whose district includes Afton.
However, Kriesel and others said, the program should not include any sort of regulatory action in support of the decreased rates of obesity and tobacco use.
"Are we going to be telling our convenience stores that they can no longer be selling Snickers bars to kids?" Kriesel asked.
Lowell Johnson, the county's public health director, said his agency is aware there is little interest in regulating behavior or food or beverage sales through the program. He said public health officials will not spend the grant funds on programs they do not believe will be successful.
"There's got to be some real tangible results on this," Peterson said.