Current data shows that Iowa has the 13th highest obesity rate in the United States, and among Iowa counties, Union County is one of the unhealthiest.
Obesity is one of the leading causes of most chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. It is also completely preventable and reversible.
Live Healthy Iowa is an initiative designed to address the growing obesity problem in the state. The program was started in 2002 by the nonprofit Iowa Sports Foundation (ISF) and offers a variety of health-related activities and challenges that bring people and communities together to promote a healthy lifestyle.
“Live Healthy Iowa is our online physical activity program where [participants] are self-directed and self-reported,” said. Dr. Amy Michelle Willcockson, director of Live Healthy Iowa.
All the challenges and activities are team oriented and each team can have up to 10 members.
It is common for companies to initiate the challenges, Willcockson noted, because they are affordable and provide camaraderie along with fun and friendly competition among employees.
However, “Anyone can do it,” she said. “Families can do it. Friends can do it. Mom’s clubs. Churches.”
Willcockson said the the bigger vision of ISF is to see Iowa become the number one healthiest state in the nation.
To that end, in 2016 the Activity Index was created. The Activity Index is a measurement tool designed to show counties where they stand as far as participation in the challenges and activities sponsored by ISF to help drive counties into a higher level of physical activity.
“When you start talking about ranking 80 out of 99 in overall health in Iowa, you get upset, and you talk about having 32 percent obesity in your county, you get upset,” Willcockson said. “You start thinking about, ‘Well, what can I do in my county to help this?’ So, you find the challenge champions or the wellness warriors, and they come out of the woodwork and they get going and they motivate each other. All of the sudden you have different stake holders in the county coming together to try to collaborate using different resources and people of influence in the community to get a team-based approach on a community level.
“[The Activity Index] has been a great catalyst on the community level. It’s provided a great framework for the counties to get motivated and moving.”
Participation in Live Healthy Iowa is voluntary, and the level of participation varies from county to county with Union County – currently 86 out of 99 – ranking among counties with the lowest level of participation. In 2016, the inaugural year of the Activity Index, Union County had 98 participants and ranked 78 among the 99 Iowa counties. Only 1.73 percent (37 people) of Union County residents participated in the program last year.
“Lucas County went from 99 to the 22nd ranking this year,” Willcockson added. “Wright County went from 73 in the first year all the way to number five.
“I would challenge Union to get back over 100 people. But, really, out of 11,000 people in [Union] county, you could have way more than 100 people in the 10-week wellness challenge. It’s very easy to raise the rank just by getting involved in the 10-week wellness challenge.”
The 10-week wellness challenge Willcockson mentioned is a team challenge that begins Jan. 22 and runs until March 30. Over the 10-week period, participants track active minutes or weight loss through the Live Healthy Iowa website. The cost to participate is $22 per team member and includes access to a personal dashboard within the website, opportunities to win weekly prizes, discount entry into statewide Live Healthy Iowa 5K events and an Access card which offers discounts at retailers around the state. For more information about the challenge, visit the Live Healthy Iowa website.
“Sevently-fivepercent of all chronic disease is reducible, reversible and preventable by lifestyle choices and changes. Chronic disease is crushing our healthcare system financially,” Willcockson said. “We could literally turn this problem around. We have the key to saving our economy and our healthcare system by making different choices.
“You’ve seen people change their choices and change their lives. You see it all the time, and if we did that on a collective basis, we could make a massive impact and save ourselves, save our medical system, save all kinds of money, save all kinds of lives.”
“If we could figure out how to move the population to make better choices physically …,” Willcockson said, “that’s what Live Healthy Iowa is about. We’re trying to figure out how to motivate and move bigger groups of people.”