Grant targets soda consumption

MADELIA – It could be considered a New Year’s resolution for the town of Madelia: cut down on sugary beverages in favor of healthier choices.

A $57,000 grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Program is meant to help the town reach that goal.

“We’re still in the very early stages,” said Chera Sevcik, supervisor for the SHIP-funded programs in Martin, Faribault and Watonwan counties. “We’ve met with a community group, the Madelia Community-Based Collaborative, which is composed of several community leaders.

“There is a strong connection to the Glen Taylor nursing program at MSU, and other organizations, such as the schools, public health, local nursing homes and Tony Downs Foods.

“They proposed the idea to us back in July when we were writing applications for the SHIP grants.”

When the group approached SHIP with its idea to target sugary drinks, there already had been some baby steps taken.

“The group had a current assessment of its community, and its top three concerns were diabetes, obesity and cancer,” Sevcik said. “There is clear evidence and research that shows there is a connection between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity and diabetes, and the idea is to help encourage healthier choices.”

While the $57,000 is meant for staffing for a coordinator and for resources for the movement, some organizations in Madelia already have taken on the challenge voluntarily.

“At Tony Down Foods, they surveyed the break room vending machines and implemented half the offerings there be healthier choices, such as water or juices,” Sevcik said. “We look at how to at least have options.”

The idea also has gotten the interest of the school district for the staff break room, and also taken hold at other workplaces.

“These are the people who have a feel for who we have in Madelia,” Sevcik said. “We hope to provide the resources to organizations … Right now the process is very voluntary; we hope to pull in the stores voluntarily as well.”

The plan has two major parts: one is offering healthier options; the second is part of a social norms campaign, such as Boston’s “Rethink your Drink.”

“There are other communities [that have] had campaigns such as a ‘soda-free summer’ support campaign,” Sevcik said. “We could be getting involved with the local 4-H. We really want to get involved with the youth, because the youth are the drivers in social change.”

The trick for the campaign being successful will be community members being open to switching out some of their sodas for healthier beverages.

“We don’t want to take anything away from anyone,” Sevcik said. “But we want to have that healthy option be more readily available.”