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Ruth Litchfield, Ph.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition, (515) 294-9484,
Diane Nelson, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-3178,

Does Iowa Really Deserve an 'F' in Overweight/Obesity Prevention?

AMES, Iowa -A recent national obesity report card has given Iowa - and 22 other states - a failing grade after reviewing what they were doing to treat overweight/obesity as a public health threat. Each state was graded on its efforts to legislate eight overweight/obesity control measures. Five of the items looked at school programs, while the remaining considered research efforts, health insurance coverage of obesity treatment and statewide obesity study commissions.

"Unfortunately, these criteria are primarily policy issues. They do not reflect the local efforts that Iowans are making to reduce the overweight/obesity epidemic," said Ruth Litchfield, Iowa State University Extension nutritionist. "Iowa does have a weight problem but many groups in the state are promoting lifestyle changes to reduce obesity and overweight."

For example, more than 20,000 Iowans have lost a total of 65,000 pounds and logged 4.8 million miles of activity as part of the state's two-year involvement with "Lighten Up Iowa" and its youth component "Go the Distance." The program is sponsored by Iowa Games, Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa State University Extension.

"Food and Fitness Craze," sponsored by ISU Extension/4-H Program, offers roll call ideas, program ideas, community service projects, meeting activities and snacks that promote the food and fitness theme with youth groups. Southwest Iowa 4-H programs have received a General Mills Champions grant to implement Food and Fitness Craze.

Approximately 300 Iowa schools participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Team Nutrition" program for which the Iowa Department of Education/Bureau of Food and Nutrition has received funding since the pilot project began in 1996. "Team Nutrition" promotes a healthier school environment through four messages: eat a variety of foods; eat more fruits, vegetables and grains; eat lower fat foods more often; and be physically active.

Iowa was one of four states that received funding through the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 to provide free fruits and vegetables to youth. The success of the project was overwhelming as children in 25 schools throughout the state clamored for more fruits and vegetables. This project has received continued funding through the School Nutrition Reauthorization. Senator Harkin has been instrumental in securing this funding.
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The University of Iowa Prevention Research Center (PRC) works in partnership with communities to provide technical support and coordination on health issues that the communities have identified. In Sigourney, for example, community groups identified three issues -- teens and alcohol, a walking trail and nutrition. The community is encouraged to find community or policy level approaches to solving problems rather than one-time educational efforts. Community experiences can then be shared with other towns/counties.

A position paper on child and adolescent obesity prevention written by the Iowa Department of Public Health has been recognized and cited by national experts. It provides the foundation and framework for promoting healthy lifestyles in homes, childcare, school, community and health care settings. (

In 2001 the University of Northern Iowa established The Youth Fitness and Obesity Institute through funding from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant to address the physical activity and nutrition needs of children and adolescents. Senator Grassley was key in securing this funding. Activities have been directed towards outreach efforts, building effective relationships with other agencies and institutions and supporting initiatives to build a solid statewide coalition promoting good nutrition and physical activity for youth.


A graphic showing how states scored is available at

The complete report is available at

Here are the specific criteria used for determining Iowa's grade:

* Nutrition standards: Controlling the types of foods and beverages offered during school hours
* Vending machine usage: Prohibiting types of foods and beverages sold in school and prohibiting access to vending machines at certain times
* Body mass index (BMI) measured in school
* Recess and physical education: State-mandated additional recess and physical education time
* Obesity programs and education: Programs established as part of curriculum
* Obesity research: Other institutions or groups directed by the legislature to study obesity
* Obesity treatment in health insurance: Expanding health insurance to cover obesity treatment where applicable
* Obesity commissions: The legislature established commissions designed to study obesity

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