Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 16, 2014

Iowa’s health ranking takes turn for worse

By DONNA SCHILL CLEVELAND, Ledger staff writer | Dec 13, 2012
Photo by: DIANE VANCE/Ledger photo While a 2009 health survey of Jefferson County found a higher rate of diabetes than the state average, the study found residents to be more physically active, with 83 percent partaking in moderate exercise compared to 48 percent statewide. Luci Wulfekuhle, left, and Cindy Sathoff, work at Roosevelt Community Recreation Center last week in the center’s first Female Intensive Training – FIT – class.

Iowa slipped in its health ranking to 20th Monday, its lowest placing from the United Health Foundation in the 23 year history of the survey.

The four-spot drop from 16th in 2011 is a sobering reality for a state embarking on a mission two years ago to become the healthiest state in the nation.

Part of the undertaking is The Blue Zones Project, a public-private partnership with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield to model Iowa cities after populations in the world with the most centenarians.

The bad news comes as Fairfield is gearing up to implement its Blue Zones programs after being designated a demonstration site in October. Fairfield’s Blue Zones initiative organizer Ken Daley said residents should not be discouraged, but re-invigorated.

“It may be a wake up call we need to do more,” said Daley. “We can’t say, ‘we’re not doing well, forget about it,’ our health and economic survival depends on us arresting the runaway health care costs to our society.”

Highlights from the study found Iowa to have a high prevalence of diabetes, binge drinking and infectious disease. Iowa has nearly 680,000 obese adults in Iowa — 29 percent of the population. At the same time, the availability of primary care physicians to help treat and prevent such health concerns is dwindling and the percent of uninsured residents rose from 7.9 to 11.1 percent in the past 10 years.

Daley, who is chairman of exercise and sport science at Maharishi University of Management also emphasized the United Health Foundation is only one of a number of organizations polling health.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Index, a separate nationwide survey, Iowa most recently ranked 16th healthiest, up from 19th in 2010. The results for this year are due out in February.

Daley said the news also underscores the need for an up-to-date study of Jefferson County.

In 2009, he helped secure a Harkin Wellness Grant to fund a Jefferson County health survey adapted from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System used by the Centers for Disease Control.

The study found residents to beat the state average when it came to physical activity, with 83 percent partaking in moderate physical activity compared to 48 percent statewide. County residents also ate more fruits and vegetables than the rest of the state.

However, the study highlighted the prevalence of diabetes in Jefferson County, with 12 percent receiving a diagnosis compared to the Iowa average of 7 percent.

“It is the best data on any rural community in Iowa,” said Daley.

Daley is hoping to fundraise $14,000 to update the study.

“The bottom line is we really need to redo the study to see if we have made progress,” he said.

Daley said such data can help the community address its health weaknesses. The 2009 study, for instance, helped the Jefferson County Health Center administrator and CEO Deb tailor the center’s goals.

“Last year we revised our strategic plan and added community wellness as a pillar,” said Cardin. “It’s our responsibility not only to care for the sick but also to actively be working toward prevention.”

Because of the prevalence of diabetes, the center is offering free diabetes testing and education.

“Diabetes is the number one concern in this community,” she said. “We know there are a lot people out there who have diabetes and don’t even know it.”

County residents also fared worse than the state with access to a primary care physician.

While Cardin said the center has hired several primary care physicians in recent years to meet the county’s needs, many are nearing retirement age. Most recently, the center lost Dr. Mary Ann Zakutney who is leaving to care for an ailing family member.

“It’s a huge concern,” said Cardin. “Not all our physicians are young, and some are looking toward retirement. It’s going to get harder and harder to replace them.”

Due to difficulty attracting doctors to rural areas, Cardin said the center will likely see more mid-level providers, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

While Daley said he expected work done by the health center work, and by community transformation grants to the county from the CDC would result in positive change in an updated county health study, he believed it would be too early to see drastic improvement from Iowa’s healthiest state initiative.

He said the program is on the verge of taking action, but is still in the public awareness stage.

“We haven’t started any interventions yet, except for a couple of demonstration walks as part of the healthiest state initiative, which is not going to change behavior in any radical way,” he said.

Daley said the Blue Zones program will focus on creating social support for healthy lifestyles such as community gardens, healthier workplaces and a walking school bus program.

“As soon as you have a social support structure, you’re much more likely to change your behavior,” he said.

Cardin said the health center is prepared to make changes to meet the program’s criteria.

“We’re presently working on trying to obtain certified Blue Zones work site designation,” she said.

Daley said Iowa’s falling health ranking can remind Fairfield businesses, schools and restaurants why they should pursue blue zone certification.

“We are part of the state and we have a lot of the same trends,” said Daley, “but we’ve been as proactive as any community I’m aware of.”

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