Iowa Senator Tom Harkin joined state health officials Tuesday to announce a three-million-dollar grant to promote healthier lifestyles. Saying Iowa’s the only state to get this federal grant, the democratic senator said he hopes to make Iowa a “laboratory of innovation” for wellness and disease prevention.He says it’s to encourage Iowa communities to build consortiums — to look at nutrition, physical activity, smoking cessation and mental-health wellness since, he says, those are the four top causes of preventable illness. Harkin says he hopes community groups will pitch in together to apply for grants, and says the YMCA could partner with Boys and Girls Clubs or faith-based groups to suggest new wellness programs. Harkin says his vision is a whole community involved in wellness, including mallwalking and year-round walking and bike paths. He says parents could have wellness programs on their worksites and their kids have them at their schools and also have good nutrition, and physical activities throughout the day. He says whole communities could have physical activities for residents nights and weekends. Harkin wants Iowa turned into a “laboratory for innovation,” a national leader in promoting wellness, and he adds this is the only state getting “this kind of money.” The three-million dollars in the newly passed congressional appropriations bill includes general guidelines for the “Harkin Wellness Grants,” including encouraging local matching funds and focusing on one or more of four priorities — nutrition, physical activity, mental health, and smoking cessation. In the U.S. Harkin says we “have a ‘sick care’ system, one that focuses its recourses only if you get sick,” and he wants to focus on wellness and a system that keeps people out of the hospital in the first place. The grants will be awarded by the state department of public health next summer. Director Dr. Mary Mincer Hansen says the money couldn’t come at a better time for Iowa, because the state faces steep challenges in health and wellness. Hansen says 27-percent of Iowa high-school students still smoke, and only one in five students say they have physical activity that will keep them healthy. And she says only 17-percent of Iowans get five fruits and vegetables a day. Doctor Hansen says research shows living a healthier lifestyle helps children become better learners and adults more productive workers. Hansen says when Iowa communities become healthier places to live, we’ll have healthy kids that are better learners, healthy workers who’re more productive, and a healthy state that will attract business.
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