The Minnesota Department of Health has awarded $11.3 million to 18 community projects statewide to fight tobacco use and obesity, part of a multi-year effort to get people healthier and reduce health care costs.

"To improve health in Minnesota, we need to think in terms of prevention, not just treatment," said Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger, echoing a theme he's taken frequently to legislators.

Ehlinger noted that an estimated 35 percent of deaths each year are caused by smoking, lack of physical activity and poor nutrition.

The grants mark the third year of the Statewide Health Improvement Program, which has handed out about $47 million total to programs in every county over the previous two years. The Legislature allocated $15 million for the next two years.

This round of grants includes 51 counties and five cities -- St. Paul, Minneapolis, Bloomington, Edina and Richfield.

Grant recipients include: Anoka, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Rice and Sherburne counties; a coalition of Beltrami, Clearwater, Lake of the Woods, Hubbard, Norman, Mahnomen and Polk counties; Carlton, Cook, Lake, St. Louis, Aitkin, Itasca and Koochiching counties; Clay, Wilkin, Becker and Otter Tail counties; Douglas, Grant, Stevens, Pope and Traverse counties; Faribault, Martin, Watonwan, Cottonwood and Jackson counties; Kanabec, Pine, Isanti and Mille Lacs counties; Meeker, McLeod and Sibley counties; and Morrison, Todd, Wadena and Cass counties.

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253