In Iowa, as in the nation, the rates of obesity have steadily increased over the past decade. In rural Keokuk County, Iowa, the rates of obesity and overweight are higher than the national rates. Community members have insufficient knowledge of the relationship between sedentary lifestyle and inappropriate food choices, and the development of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. To address these risk factors, center researchers are implementing an intervention in the community of Sigourney in Keokuk County. The aim is to reduce residents’ overall body fat by creating community resources that support physical activity, eating more fruits and vegetables, and consuming fewer high-fat foods.
The intervention involves the entire community—restaurant and grocery store owners; community residents; the Iowa Department of Public Health; and leaders from local churches, libraries, high schools, and parks and recreation services. It also includes a wide range of activities. For example, restaurant owners are asked to offer healthy food options. Store owners are asked to support healthy food demonstrations and to label foods that are certified by the American Heart Association. Community members are encouraging schools to increase the availability of unsweetened beverages in their cafeterias and vending machines, and are working with county officials to create or upgrade walking trails and to allow adult use of high school facilities for leisure-time walking. Community members are also encouraging the formation of walking groups or teams that can provide social support for behavior change.
Researchers will determine the intervention’s effectiveness by comparing dietary and physical activity habits, attitudes towards health behaviors, body mass index, and other indicators of 200 residents in Sigourney (the intervention group) with those of 200 residents in a comparison community in a similar county. They will also assess the individual components of the intervention and evaluate their effects.