The Minnesota State Fair may be best known for deep-fried variations on cheese, bacon and other sins against nutrition, but increasingly it’s also becoming a destination for those in search of good health.
The state Department of Health expanded its display on vaccines this year, following a measles outbreak linked to low immunization rates in one community, and the University of Minnesota has unveiled a new research building where fairgoers can volunteer to participate in studies on anything from dentistry to memory loss.
Variety, and even contradiction, is what the fair is about, said Logan Spector, a director of the U’s Driven to Discover building.
“It’s just a convenient place where people do all sorts of things,” Spector said. “They get offers for new gutters, they meet politicians. The whole fair is about variety of experience — and health information, both contributing to science and getting your own information, seems to be part of what people want.”
Five years ago, a small group of U researchers decided the fairgrounds might be a spot where they could recruit volunteers for a simple study of genetics and biometrics. The booth proved such a hit that the U expanded the experiment, giving researchers space in the former Spam building to recruit subjects for a variety of studies.
This year, visitors can give clippings of their hair for a study on environmental exposure, and receive ball caps for playing games that test their memory and thinking skills.
The new building shows how popular the concept has become, Spector said — and it doesn’t have the old building’s leaks, which resulted in rain-damaged equipment.
KARE 11’s Health Fair exhibit returned for its 17th year, providing blood pressure checks as well as screenings for hearing and memory loss. This year it added a new wrinkle on opening weekend: a robotic surgery console where visitors can test their skills.
Jan Kozlovsky made the Health Fair her first stop Thursday so she could check her blood pressure. Well, she confided, it was almost her first stop. The lure of cheese curds proved too strong, and probably threw off her blood pressure reading by the time she got attached to the cuff.
“Pretty bad,” she lamented.
The Health Department’s stand in the Education Building added a Kerplunk-style game, part of a larger exhibit on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The message: People who get immunizations aren’t just protecting themselves against illness, but also curbing the spread of disease and protecting those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.
At the U’s new building on Thursday morning, Patrick Hoye and his 12-year-old daughter, Mary, volunteered for research on public perspectives of social work and on access to dental services and insurance. Mary got to spin a wheel for prizes after completing her survey, and went away with candy.
“People are willing to do anything for a cheap spinny wheel” and prizes, her father said.
Not all of the U’s studies involve health care and medicine. A marketing professor who is studying fashion and consumer branding asked women to carry different types of handbags around the Fairgrounds and then return.
One of the medical studies addresses the potential of fecal bacteria in treating diseases. It has a poop emoji in its title, a hit with young fairgoers.
While visitors are being recruited for the study, Spector said, they don’t need to be squeamish. “No donations on site,” he joked.