AMES, Iowa — There is a big push in Iowa to get people thinking about food and fitness – and taking positive action to become healthier. Live Healthy Iowa challenges youth and adults to move more and eat healthy. The Healthiest State Initiative, to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016, is building awareness and getting Iowans involved. In fact, Healthiest State is the reason Michelle Obama will be in Iowa to open a three-day tour marking the second anniversary of her Let’s Move initiative, which promotes physical fitness and healthy eating for children.
Overcoming childhood obesity, having a healthy youth population and becoming the healthiest state will take more than challenges, initiatives and educational resources, according the Ruth Litchfield, an Iowa State University associate professor and state nutrition extension specialist. It will take adults adapting healthier lifestyles and encouraging youth.
“When it comes to helping young people make healthy eating and lifestyle choices, no resource is as effective as caring and passionate adults who interact with kids on a regular basis,” Litchfield said. “If every adult would engage with one, two or three kids — be a role model for physical activity and healthy eating — we wouldn’t have the issues we have today.”
The prevalence of overweight among American youth has become an epidemic. The number of overweight children ages 6-11 has almost quadrupled in the past four decades, and for adolescents ages 12-19 it has tripled. In only 12 years the prevalence of overweight among children increased five percent depending on the age group. For African-American and Mexican-American adolescents there has been an increase of 10 percent in this short time period.
Litchfield recommends that adults make healthy choices for themselves, be physically active and look for every opportunity to encourage youth to make similar choices. “Be a role model for the youth you are with on a regular basis, encourage them to make positive health choices,” Litchfield said. “Find ways to incorporate food and physical fitness into structured and unstructured settings — whether it’s youth meetings or gatherings, or deciding on a snack or how to fill an afternoon.”
Resources for Adults and Youth
Groups — clubs, families, classrooms — can find ideas for snacks, fitness activities, programs and community service projects in the Food and Fitness Craze publications from ISU Extension and Outreach. “The publications include many ideas for friends, families and community members to engage with youth and promote healthy living,” Litchfield said. “Each of us, where ever we are, has a role in becoming a healthier community and state.”
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach looked within its own community to see what changes could be made to provide youth with healthier food and activities. Litchfield said an announcement soon will be made about experiences that will be incorporated into summer camps at the Iowa State 4-H Center this summer.