The director of the Iowa Department of Public Health says a new campaign promoting healthy habits is aimed at Iowa kids for a reason. Gerd Claybaugh says grown-ups are already set in their ways.

“If we can teach kids how to create healthy habits for themselves,” he says, “how to limit their screen time, the importance of eating five fruits and vegetables every day, this is where we get long-term return on that investment of effort.”

The communities of Dubuque, Mount Pleasant, West Union and Malvern are getting grants for a coordinated campaign promoting daily physical activity and helping kids make better choices about what they eat and drink. Claybaugh says obesity rates among Iowa adults haven’t changed much in the past few years, so the focus is turning to kids.

“I think bending the curve is hard,” Claybaugh says.

The latest data indicates nearly one-third of Iowa kids between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight or obese. Claybaugh says the physical, social and emotional health of kids is impacted by their weight.

“For example, children who are obese are at higher risk for asthma, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes and other conditions which impact their ability to be physically active,” Claybaugh. “Children who are obese are often bullied and suffer from problems like depression and low self-esteem and weight problems as a child are associated with obesity as an adult.”

The U.S. will spend about $147 million on obesity-related health care costs this year. The “Healthy Choices Count” program was launched in Iowa earlier this month. The $18,000 grants to the four Iowa cities are financed by the private “Healthiest State Initiative” and other partners, like the United Way.