Last August, Gov. Terry Branstad announced a bold plan to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation within five years. From the very start it was obvious that Iowans throughout the state embraced this ambitious objective.
The initial enthusiasm culminated on Oct. 7, when some 291,000 Iowans took the first steps on our journey. Through more than 2,300 Start Somewhere Walks - in every county of the state - Iowans spoke with their actions in this symbolic kickoff of the Healthiest State Initiative.
Just the beginning
As the name suggested, the Start Somewhere Walks were just the beginning of our effort to move our ranking on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index from 19th to number one.
Becoming healthier has enormous implications for Iowans and the fiscal health of our state. For example, making comprehensive lifestyle changes could allow Iowa to redirect as much as $16 billion over the next five years to other purposes, such as growing the state's economy.
The good news is that we control 70 percent of the factors influencing our health, so it's largely within our power to make a positive difference in our lives.
Blue Zones Project
Iowa's communities are responding to our Well-Being challenge. Eighty-four communities submitted statements of interest for the Blue Zones Project, a centerpiece program of the Healthiest State Initiative. As part of this project, a collaboration of Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Healthways, national experts will work alongside local leaders in 10 Iowa communities deemed demonstration sites, over the next five years. They will help implement a blueprint to change these communities so that their residents may live longer, healthier and more productive lives.
Fifty-four full applications for the Blue Zones Project were received earlier this month. Initial demonstration communities will be named in May.
The benefit of the Blue Zones Project will go well beyond the demonstration communities. All communities will have access to online tools to support their wellness efforts beginning in April. These online tools - part of the Blue Zones Institute - will help communities choose a self-directed path toward health and longevity, and will provide supplemental resources dedicated to supporting smaller, rural communities that may want additional assistance to change their environment so that the healthy choice becomes the easy choice. In addition, the demonstration communities will be expected to share what they've learned with other Iowa communities.
Live Healthy Iowa
In addition to creating new programs, one strategy of the Healthiest State Initiative is to shine a spotlight on existing programs that will help us reach our goal of making Iowa No. 1 in well-being. One of those programs is Live Healthy Iowa.
During the annual Live Healthy Iowa - 100 Day Wellness Challenge, teams of Iowans track their weight and activity minutes, and motivate each other to lose weight and improve their overall fitness.
Live Healthy Iowa hopes to double participation to 60,000 Iowans in this year's challenge, which began Jan. 23 and accepts registration through Feb. 29. For more information on how to participate and new Corporate and Community Cup Challenges, visit www.livehealthyiowa.org.
We can maintain momentum
In the coming months, you'll see other programs and opportunities for getting involved in the Healthiest State Initiative. Here's a taste: watch for a traveling wellness tour, a healthy entree promotion that will sweep across Iowa restaurants and even new twists at the Iowa State Fair in 2012.
We have made a start toward our goal of a healthier, happier Iowa. It's up to each and every one of us to keep the momentum. Here are some simple things to do:
If you haven't already done so, pledge your support for the Healthiest State Initiative at www.iowahealthieststate.com.
Get a team together for the Live Healthy Iowa - 100 Day Wellness Challenge. Register at www.livehealthyiowa.org.
Go to www.bluezonesproject.com and complete a Blue Zones Personal Pledge to define specific steps you can take to improve your personal health.
It's time to tackle our health challenge. Together, we can and will become the healthiest state in the nation.
Ric Jurgens, chairman and chief executive officer of Hy-Vee Inc., John Forsyth, chairman and chief executive officer of Wellmark Inc., and Doug Reichardt, chairman emeritus of Holmes Murphy & Associates Inc., are the co-chairs of the Healthiest State Initiative.