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Dec 28

Iowans’ Health Drops in Federal Survey

Iowa continues to slip in a prominent annual health ranking even as its leaders pledge to make the state the healthiest in the nation. Iowa dropped from 17th to 20th in the latest United Health Foundation rankings released earlier this month. The state’s ranking has fallen from a peak of 5th place in the 1991 report. Ringgold County Public Health (RCPH) is working to stall this downward trend through a Community Transformation Grant:

The RCPH plan seeks to increase healthy behaviors and reduce the burden of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes for Ringgold County residents. Current efforts include:

1) Partnering with county employers on worksite wellness programs. These programs encourage and support employees to find ways to exercise, eat healthy, quit tobacco, and take other preventative health measures.

2) Coordinating efforts that improve the environment to encourage more walking and bicycling including installation of curb cuts, bike racks, and signage along trails and routes with health messages and mileage markers.

3) Providing training for local residents to teach chronic disease self-management courses.

4) Partnering with local media and businesses to place health promotion materials.

The rankings look at a broad range of factors, but they give special weight to unhealthy characteristics and behaviors, such as obesity, smoking, binge drinking and sedentary lifestyles. “This should be a call to action and a wake-up call,” said Dr. Reed Tuckson, chief of medical affairs for UnitedHealth Group, who oversaw the rankings report. Tuckson said he is encouraged to hear Gov. Terry Branstad and the state’s largest health insurer, Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield, are leading an effort to improve Iowans’ health habits. The effort, announced last year, aims to make Iowa the healthiest state by 2016. The goal is ambitious, but achievable, Tuckson said. “It’s absolutely doable. First of all, just setting the goal is as therapeutic as anything I can imagine. To have your leadership say, ‘This is something we aspire to,’ is absolutely the most important first step there is.”

Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said her agency will seriously consider the new report’s findings. Miller-Meeks has been heavily involved in the Healthiest State Initiative. She said Monday that the state still could reach the goal of besting all of its counterparts by 2016 if public and private groups keep pulling together to encourage healthier habits.

Tuckson said the key to improving Iowa’s lot would be to get people throughout the state to focus on exercising regularly, eating better, quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol. Individuals, community organizations and employers must participate. He admitted the federal health surveys probably shifted a bit because of the switch to also calling people on their cell phones, thus reaching more young people. However, he said, long-term trends in the rankings are significant, and Iowa’s ranking has crept down from a peak of 5th in 1991 to 20th this year. “We really are getting to a point where we are facing a catastrophe for the nation,” he said. “If we do not turn off the spigot of preventable chronic illness, it will only mean that there is a huge burden of illness that is going to be coming into the medical-care delivery system.”

Ringgold County Public Health invites you to make a New Year’s resolution to improve your health and help Iowa reach the goal of being the healthiest state by 2016. For more information on how you can become a part of this initiative and improve your health call RCPH (641) 464-0691