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Local officials not fazed by state's drop in health rankings

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | DECEMBER 14, 2012 6:30 AM

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Gov. Terry Branstad has a vision. He wants Iowa to be the healthiest state in the country.

However, a recent report indicates that Iowa has dropped four spots in national rankings. Despite the drop in rankings, several local officials aren’t fazed.

“The survey is a snapshot in time, and anything currently done would not show the lag in the survey,” said Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. “You don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction to something you may have already addressed.”

America’s Health Rankings ranked Iowa No. 20 in 2012. Iowa dropped four spots from No. 16.

Iowa’s goal is based on a different survey — Gallup’s-Healthways Well-Being Index — but, either way, one local doctor feels there is a “disconnect” when it comes to reaching the goal.

“While we set these goals, the big area we have not made an impact in is nutrition,” said Jason Bradley, a nutritionist of Washington Street Wellness Center, 505 E. Washington St. “Why are spending billions upon billions upon billions when it’s so easy to focus on prevention.”

Miller-Meeks disagreed with Bradley’s comments, saying there is a “tremendous amount of focus” on prevention coming from state programs and initiatives, which include: a state bureau of fitness and nutrition as well as an increase on the issue in the private sector with Hy-Vee now staffing dietitians and nutritionists.

Regardless of the ranking, Johnson County Public Health Director Doug Beardsley said the county continues to engage in healthy behaviors while trying to tackle issues related to binge drinking.

“We’re changing the culture of binge drinking,” he said. “The 21-ordinance and UI educating students, and following up on incidences even off campus have helped address the problem.”

The university offers a variety of programs to help keep students healthy, including: a personal health assessment, life coaching, and access to the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center.

One student felt students should take up the resources offered by the Rec Center.

“A lot of students are present right now, and even more will be here after break with New Year’s resolutions and spring-break goers,” said Jake Squillaci, a membership services attendant at the Rec Center.

According to the survey, binge drinking was one of the challenges the survey identified as well as limited availability of primary care physicians and a high incidence of infectious disease.

Adding a change in survey methods was also to blame for Iowa’s drop.

Beardsley said the rankings are a relative standard, so it’s difficult to tell if Iowa is getting worse or other states are doing better.

“Don’t worry about what other people are doing,” he said. “Instead worry about what your community and state are doing to improve your health.”


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