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Iowa's Health & Fitness Challenges

posted on January 9, 2008 at 8:53 AM

So far the investment in a healthier Iowa lifestyle has been modest compared to the considerable cost that preventable chronic disease is exacting on our economy and our culture.

Tim Lane is a Fitness Consultant for the Iowa Department of Health and is part of the “Lighten Up Iowa” program, along with a broad coalition of citizens, corporations, and government. Also with us is Jim Hallihan, who is the Executive Director of the Iowa Sports Foundation.

Mundt: Welcome to both of you.

Mark ran us through some of the really great things that are happening in Iowa, and I want to talk about some of those things too, but there are some issues that I'm sure that we must still face and you two are probably well aware of them. As you look at the good things that are happening in Iowa, what do you see as two or three things that we still need to work on as a state that are challenges. I'll start with you, Jim.

Hallihan: I'll go with the whole area of obesity, not just the adults. I attended a childhood obesity conference back in the fall. It got down to what was the most important thing that we could do to halt childhood obesity, to make a change in it. There were a lot of great ideas, but number one was quality daily physical education.

Our kids aren't getting the quality daily physical education that they need. In fact, in some schools they've even dropped recess in order to try to catch them up on reading and science and math. It's kind of funny because when I was growing up, they realized go out and play hard, come in and learn.

Go out and play hard -- and it's the same thing in the business world. If we get people up and moving, they'll be more alert at work. They'll be more productive. We've somehow gotten away from that with all the conveniences of either video games or computers or whatever.

Mundt: And with tight budgets in schools also the imperatives of testing and trying to make sure that we're, in math and science, getting ahead. Something has to give.

Hallihan: Exactly. And we're trying to promote physical activity, good nutrition, not diets, not quick answers. Dr. Shoeman at Iowa State is the team physician and head of the student health department, and he said, you know, there's no question it's not a quick, easy fix. You have to change your lifestyle.

That's why the hundred-day challenge this year. We think in a hundred days, you can form a new habit. And then by being on teams, we're going to keep things going because you're going to have accountability and responsibility to your team and for your team, and that kind of keeps people from dropping off like they normally would do with a new year’s resolution a couple weeks into it.

Mundt: Tim, what are your thoughts on this? Is physical education a part of one of the challenges that Iowa has to deal with, the lack of physical education for young people?

Lane: For all Iowans, especially young people, as Jim indicated. And picking up on that academics end of it, if we're increasing the level of physical activity among our children, they are more prepared to learn. So you’re getting two benefits out of that, not just the healthier child, but they are more prepared to learn. Their behavior improves.

In addition to us putting a wall between our children and Type II diabetes and cardiovascular diseases that can start then. The earlier it starts, the longer they have it, the greater the risk. Kids love to be out playing and running. We need to foster that as opposed to not building on that. But it is physical activity for all Iowans, and for one hundred years, we've had a mantra in this country that labor saving devices is where it's at.

And as portion sizes for food and nutrition have gotten bigger, our physical activity has gotten less and less. We now can open our car door with a button, let alone just use that physical activity. It all adds up and then the bottom line is it all adds up at an increased risk. Just adding two pounds of weight to a person increases their chances of arthritis, and that adds to the $800-million budget every year for the cost associated with just overweight and obesity in this state.

Mundt: That's a startling statistic, given the fact that I think the other stat that we hear around the holidays is that a lot of people gain five pounds over the holidays and a lot of that weight doesn't disappear over the course of the coming year. So what we have in a period of a few weeks just continues to build and build and build year after year.

Hallihan: Absolutely. One of the things about Lighten Up Iowa is we're not telling people that they have to go from having a job where they’re sitting all day to running a marathon. It's about getting active in increments. It all adds up five minutes here, five minutes here, ten minutes here, parking your car farther, walking up the steps, not taking the elevator, just getting a conscience about being more active.

We're trying to create that in the state of Iowa, a wellness atmosphere that everybody is aware of it. And our goal is to have Iowa be the healthiest state in the country, and I think we can accomplish that. It continues to build and it continues to get momentum. We're looking to have a great year this year in Lighten Up Iowa, and I hope everybody out there signs up for it.

Go to lightenupiowa.org and get going because that teamwork is the key thing, helping each other out. I compared it to sports when we used to do preseason conditioning when I coached at Iowa State. It was too hard. You couldn't have done it by yourself. You'd have got halfway through and you'd have dropped out. But with the other guys cheering for and doing that last sprint and running up that hill and doing that heavy rope, you get through it and you think I couldn't have done that by myself.

So that's how we formed, in Lighten Up Iowa, the idea of a team doing it together. It's fun and it gives each other the support they need.

Mundt: You walk into the grocery store and you have a chance to sign up for Lighten Up Iowa there too if you want to?

Hallihan: I'm glad you brought that up because in all the Hy-Vee stores -- in all the Hy-Vee drug stores, there will be big Live Healthy America racks in there. And on those racks will be tear off sheets that will have a code number on it that will allow people to go home and sign up for Lighten Up Iowa with a $5 discount.

So instead of the normal $15 entry fee, which covers your t-shirt, the hundred-day challenge with all the daily tips -- or the weekly tips, the incentives that we draw out, we'll have gym bags and things that we'll give to teams that are completing their filling out the information because it's really important to report in on a regular basis, a weekly basis. That keeps people focused.

Then we get involved with companies in Iowa that they reinforce within their employees with newsletters, with lunch and learns, with extra incentives. And then you get this wellness in communities, which we've done a good job on too.

Mundt: We saw on the screen a few minutes ago a graphic that showed the increase in obesity over a period of time in Iowa and the rest the nation, and I think it's up on the screen now. Over a period of years, the line is not going in the right direction. Tim, what are your thoughts on what we're seeing, not only in Iowa and the rest the country? Is this a problem of food? Is this a problem of people pursuing diets that they think will help them and won't, or is it a combination of that and many other things?

Lane: Yes. All of that. Number one, I can't agree more with Jim that Lighten Up Iowa is a tremendous program and been tremendously successful. And not everybody that has been in it has been in it because they were dealing with weight. The promotion of physical activity is good for almost all Iowans. But even if they all were, that would still lessen one percent of the population that we need to impact. I'm really glad that is had a ripple effect within the community.

Mundt: Describe that ripple effect.

Lane: Well, within the Iowa Department Of Public Health -- and by the way, we're going to have an extended program this year getting state employees to form teams and participate. If you have in the past one individual that makes a resolution and they come in and everybody else is still bringing in donuts and cakes and things like this, you haven’t changed things. But with Lighten Up Iowa, you can impact the culture.

There's a critical mass and a tipping point there where more folks are saying, oh no, let's bring in oranges and let's bring in healthy veggies and fruits and vegetables, et cetera. That is a turning point for that particular area. And people start wearing pedometers and saying what’s your pace, how many steps did you get today.

Then even beyond that, people are starting to realize that what Mark Fenton was talking about is that we can do things with some simple designs of our communities to make them more walkable. I know within did Des Moines this year with the Principal River Walk and all the trails that are being connected, we are becoming a more walkable community.

Even communities like George, Iowa -- I talked about Des Moines -- but also smaller communities are realizing: let's promote the individual change, do it with a team, but also look at ways that we can structure our communities to make them more walkable with trails, sidewalks, and some lights and some things that are done to promote and encourage kids.

Again, it's not only in school with P.E., But when they go home with the 4.5 and growing number of hours of TV, it is a critical problem that we need to -- we're applying the brakes with Lighten Up Iowa, but we've got to keep pulling on that brake and encouraging more and more Iowans to come with us.

Mundt: Jim, do you find that companies are getting on board with this idea that helping out employees? It would seem to be -- on some level it's almost like a no brainer because if you have rising health care costs, the one thing that you want to be able to do is make your employees more healthy.

Hallihan: Both companies and communities. For instance, Des Moines is a huge community, so it's hard to have kind of a Des Moines program. But you look at Hy-Vee, they're a great example. Meredith Corporation, they've had lots of their people that work for them involved in Lighten Up Iowa. Last year Meredith came on for the first year. They have a thousand employees. Almost 500 joined the program and almost 480 finished the program, and they created that culture of wellness.

Hy-Vee did the same thing. They had 5,000 participants in all of their seven states involved. And we go into our national Live Healthy America program, which started from Lighten Up Iowa. So you’re seeing a culture where not everybody is in it, but people are looking around and saying, “Gee, you're looking good” and “I see you’re eating celery and strawberries for lunch. Why is that?” “Well, I'm trying to be more healthy.” “Well, you're not overweight.” “No, but I know that I need to eat and I have to look at the nutritional things that I'm doing because you've got to know inside what's your numbers, what's your cholesterol, what's your blood pressure.”

You can be thin and have a cholesterol of 300 and be a walking time bomb. So it's not about -- like Tim said, it's not all about losing weight. It's about living healthier. You can be robust and healthy and you can be skinny and not very healthy. So we're trying to educate people on all those things that will change their lifestyle and make them have a longer, healthier life.

It doesn't do any good to have a longer life if you're 300 pounds or you have diabetes the last thirty years of your life and you can't enjoy it. When he mentioned adult onset diabetes, that's Type II diabetes. We have 12 year old kids getting it now. That's supposed to be 60 and 70 year old people getting it.

The companies make a huge difference because they motivate their people. They show they care about them. They have fun in the environment. In the long run, a company like Hy-Vee has seen their health costs level off and have even had some months where they could actually give money back to their store directors, because they're self-insured. And not everybody is in it, but the culture is there.

Mundt: We only have just a few seconds left, probably about 45 seconds. There have been some efforts in the legislature to deal with soda in schools and maybe other efforts. Is there a legislative path to get some things done? Is that effective? Is that something that we should, as Iowans, try to support? I'll start with you, Tim and then you, Jim. Very quickly.

Lane: Very quickly, from what I hear from legislators on both sides of the aisle, this particular session is really going to take a serious look at a whole range of wellness activities and events for the state of Iowa.

Hallihan: I think it really gets down to the families too. You can legislate things but the home environment and the role modeling and not letting kids have a 38 ounce thing of Mountain Dew at 8:00 at night, so it's a combination a both. But it is an awareness and we are making process and we’re going to continue making progress.

 

Tags: exercise fitness Iowa sports