Small Steps Lead to Health and Wealth
Many Iowa families are experiencing serious problems related to their health or personal finances, or both. According to the Centers for Disease Control¹, obesity and overweight, which are risk factors for a host of chronic diseases, affect 66 percent of Iowa adults. In an Employee Benefit Research Institute Survey² only 13 percent of workers in 2011 reported they were very confident in having enough money to live comfortably in retirement. Households have low savings rates and high debt. Many families are facing serious health issues, have few financial resources, and are looking for a way to live healthier lives and achieve financial security.
ISU Extension and Outreach specialists in family finance and nutrition and health deliver the Small Steps to Health and Wealth curriculum as part of workplace wellness programs and at community sites. The curriculum was developed by Rutgers Extension for use as a series program highlighting nutrition and financial steps to behavior change. This program is an example of efforts that are committed to improving Iowans’ health and wellbeing.
Through the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, individuals, families, businesses, faith-based organizations, not-for-profits, and the public sector are working together in community-focused efforts to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016. To measure progress, the initiative uses the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which tracks the well-being of U.S. residents throughout the year. The scientific survey measures six domains of well-being, including healthy behaviors and basic access to enough money for food and shelter.
After participating in the Small Steps to Health and Wealth program, employees at one workplace started a support group for weight loss in which all group members weighed in each week and some of them created “walking buddies” to assist in reaching their weight loss goals.
Participants at various locations are taking steps to improve their health outcomes. Participants have reported eating out less and preparing meals at home, decreasing consumption of soda or energy drinks, and eliminating sugar in coffee and tea. They said they were consuming less caffeine and substituting water or juice for soda. They were taking advantage of small opportunities to exercise, such as playing with their children outside or going on bike rides with them, and generally exercising more often. They also reported shopping less frequently; substituting fruits for candy, chips, and ice cream; and decreasing food portion sizes. They said they were eating sweets only once a week and making available good food choices. As a result of these practices, they were losing weight.
Participants also have reported practicing a number of behaviors to improve their financial health. They reported paying down credit card balances and getting rid of credit and debit cards and using cash instead. They said they were planning their spending, getting up to date on bills, and paying bills first before anything else. They also reported clipping coupons, watching for sales and specials, and buying only what they really needed. In addition, they said they were using free tax preparation services or personally preparing taxes, starting to collect cans and loose change, and using public transportation, buying a package of bus tickets rather than individual purchases. They also were teaching family members how many hours one has to work to pay for an item, decreasing discretionary household spending, and tracking current eating and/or spending habits.
¹CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2010
²2011 Retirement Confidence Survey, Employee Benefit Research Institute