• Mon December 15 2008
  • Posted Dec 15, 2008
Le Mars By Beverly Van Buskirk Iowa ranks 15th in the nation's health in the 2008 study by America's Health Rankings "A Call to Action for Individuals and Their Communities," down one from its 14th place rank in 2007. The report looks at four groups of health determinants that can be affected: Personal behaviors; community and environment; public and health policies and clinical care. Among the significant changes according to the report is that since 1990, the prevalence of smoking has decreased from 28.1 percent to 19.8 percent of the population in Iowa. That figure measures the percentage of the population over age 18 that smokes on a regular basis. Plymouth County Public Health Nurse Manager Deb Steffen thinks that trend is a result of education and cost. "With the tobacco trust fund money, we have been doing education focused on the dangers of smoking and its effects for several years now," Steffen said. "I would like to think that has helped make a difference." "Iowa's QuitLine is also beneficial, and is able to give out free cessation products to help people quit smoking," she continued. "And just the increasing cost of the product has deterred some people from smoking," Steffen added. Another significant challenge the reports points to is since 1990, the prevalence of obesity increased from 12.8 percent to 27.7 percent of the population in the state. Steffen has seen several positive steps toward healthier eating in Plymouth County. The Fit for Life program which was started this year in Le Mars, will continue, Steffen said. The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) awarded $10,000 to the local community group working to make Le Mars healthier. The intent of the grant is to find ways to influence community behavior for long-term reduction of obesity in Iowa. "We have developed the Safe Routes to School, which gives children a way to get more physical activity as they get to school," Steffen said. In the community, the city has developed the recreation trail bicycle routes. "Our schools have been working on increasing physical fitness in the school and also improving the diets that kids get in school," Steffen said. One good example of a change in diet is the Health Snacks program at Gehlen Catholic School, which used grant money to purchase fruits and vegetables which were offered to the students. "That program was well received, and it gave children the opportunity to try foods they might not get at home," Steffen said. She added the Health Planning Committee for the county is looking for grant money to continue that particular program. Steffen also sees the need to conduct another community health needs assessment. The last one was conducted about seven years ago. "It's been seven years since the last assessment," she noted. The America's Health Rankingsā„¢ report says Iowa's strengths are high rate of high school graduation *86.6 percent of incoming ninth graders who graduate within four years); low infant mortality rate (5.0 deaths per 1,000 live births) and fewer poor mental and physical health days. Iowa also faces some tough challenges with a high prevalence of binge drinking; low per capita public health funding and limited access to primary care. Other significant changes include in the past year, the percentage of children in poverty in Iowa decreased by 6 percent and immunization coverage has declined by 6 percent. Vermont ranks first in the nation in the overall ranking, with Hawaii in second place, New Hampshire in third, Minnesota in fourth place and Utah in sixth place. In the tri-state area, Nebraska comes in ranked 13th while South Dakota comes in place at number 21. Iowa, New York and Texas show a stronger indication that they will decline over time compared to other states. Meanwhile, South Dakota and Virginia show a strong indication that they will improve over time. According to the report, the ultimate purpose of America's Health Rankingsā„¢ is to stimulate action by individuals, communities, public health professionals, health industry employees and public administration and health officials to improve the health of the population of the United States. America's Health Rankings has provided this annual state-by-state analysis of the nation's health since 1990. The complete report can be found at

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