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Overton: Treating only bruises

BY JON OVERTON | FEBRUARY 06, 2013 5:00 AM

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When you go to the emergency room after falling down a flight of stairs, you’d expect doctors to focus on your broken leg instead of the bruise on your arm. Gov. Terry Branstad’s initiative to make Iowa the healthiest state by 2016 may to do the opposite.

Iowa City became a Blue Zones demonstration site last week, and that’s great, but Johnson County has the best health factors and eighth-best health outcomes in the state. Data also indicated that 67 percent of all demonstration sites’ populations are in counties with above average health outcomes, according to countyhealthrankings.org.

Branstad’s plan tends to help communities with good health while potentially overlooking those that are worse off. We need state-directed programs that can help areas that the state inherently overlook.

The state government has endorsed the Blue Zones Project, funded by Healthways and Wellmark. It’s a grass-roots campaign, helping chosen communities make permanent changes to make healthy living easy.

Sally Dix, Wellmark’s engagement manager for the Blue Zones Project, said communities must choose to join.

“We are not targeting specific populations,” she said. “We are trying to improve the health of all Iowans.” 

Blue Zones Project officials said in a press release that it picks communities based on “civic structure and engagement and how many residents live and work in the community.” This leaves out rural counties, particularly in southern Iowa, which, according to countyhealthrankings.org, tend to have the worst health outcomes in the state.

A report from the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services said rural Iowa counties rarely receive assistance for improving health because populations are sparse and their record of using these resources is lackluster.

With most of rural southern Iowa quickly losing people, as census data indicate, it is unlikely that people in this region will suddenly organize and start emulating the Blue Zones on a large scale.
While the Blue Zones Project has targeted rural towns, even a few in southern Iowa, the most far-flung areas probably won’t see much improvement without a state-directed initiative.

We should definitely address the bumps and bruises, but also focus on fixing serious injuries.


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