posted on Sunday, August 1, 2021

 The Healthiest State Initiative is 10!

10 years ago, several Iowa business, community and state leaders came together to discuss the health of Iowans. They recognized that making progress toward a healthier Iowa was not only critical to the economic vitality of our state, but also to the quality of life of all Iowans.

birthdayTogether, they announced a plan to improve the overall health and happiness of all Iowans through community involvement, business leadership and citizen engagement. On August 11, 2011, the Healthiest State Initiative – a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization – was born. 

Iowans set out on a multi-year journey to become the healthiest state in the nation starting with the first Annual Walk in October 2011 and continuing to today. Over the past decade, the Healthiest State Initiative has strived to motivate individuals to join the movement through programs, events, challenges – but, most of all, partnership.

WALK WITH US: 2021 Healthiest State Annual Walk

The Healthiest State Initiative has tracked progress in many ways, from measuring key indicators to reporting program impact. There have been big wins, exciting events and new resources.


But there have also been other stories of success sprinkled across our state, from a woman who was inspired to build a trail in her small town, to a large employer incorporating mental health into their workplace culture, to schools creating healthier environments for students statewide.

A lot of work has been done in the past 10 years, and we look forward to the next 10! Happy birthday HSI. To celebrate 10 years, here are 10 great accomplishments (in no particular order!) we’ve made as a state in our first decade as an organization:

1. More trails

trailIowa currently has more than 2,540 miles of bicycle trails, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. That figure includes multi-use trails, widened sidewalks and bike lanes but may not include all local subdivision data, grass or dirt trails – so the number is likely higher. That’s a 41% increase from the same data collected in 2013. Plus, there are nearly 500 more miles of bike trails included in proposed local and regional trail plans.


2. Less stigma

trainingThe Healthiest State Initiative brought Make It OK to Iowa in May 2019. The Healthiest State Initiative seeks to educate about the stigma around mental illness and the damage it can do by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness.. In just a few short years, the Make It OK network in Iowa has ballooned to 831 Ambassadors and 267 Registered Workplaces, impacting more than 200,000 employees.

LISTEN & LEARN: Make It OK Stories Podcast

3. Complete Streets

walkBeing physically active through walking is one of the most important steps that people of all ages and abilities can take to improve their health. In order to make walking easier, communities can offer programs and adopt policies that provide opportunities and encouragement for walkability. Since 2011, 30 communities across Iowa have adopted Complete Streets policies, bringing our state’s total to 36.

IOWA WALKING COLLEGE WINS: 2017 fellows | 2018 fellows

4. 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count!

52105-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count! is a nationally recognized and evidence-based prevention framework to promote healthy habits that was launched in Iowa in 2017. The goal is to increase physical activity and healthy eating through policy and environmental change. Through the network of 5-2-1-0 Registered Sites, including schools, early care, out-of-school, health care providers and workplaces, 5-2-1-0 currently reaches more than 400,000 Iowans.

CELEBRATE 5-2-1-0: October is Healthiest State Month

5. Cleaner air

tobaccoTobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the state. Cigarette use imposes an annual economic burden of $1.28 billion in health care costs. However, in the past decade, tobacco use in Iowa is declining! In 2011 20.4% of adult Iowans were current smokers compared to 16.4% in 2019. Also, more than 2,500 Iowa businesses and more than 1,300 apartments/housing complexes have implemented smoke-free and tobacco-free policies.

YOU CAN QUIT: Find tobacco cessation resources

6. Double Up Food Bucks

dufbIowans facing food insecurity have redeemed more than $2.2 million in fruits and vegetables utilizing Double Up Food Bucks since it began as a pilot program in 2016. The SNAP-incentive program is currently active at more than 140 participating farmers markets and grocery stores statewide. Double Up Food Bucks participants have consumed 1,074,387 pounds of fresh produce since 2016 – that’s a lot of fruits and veggies!

HEAR FROM CUSTOMERS: Double Up Food Bucks testimonials

7. Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark

HHHealthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark uses proven strategies to help Iowa communities change environments to make healthy choices easier. Since launching in partnership with the Healthiest State Initiative in 2016, Healthy Hometown has engaged with 65 different communities or community groups on a variety of projects, including master planning, action planning, walk/bike audits and other consultation.

HEALTHY HOMETOWN SUCCESS STORIES: Waverly | Cass County | Waterloo

8. Healthiest State Annual Awards

irvingEach year the Healthiest State Initiative honors individuals, education providers, workplaces and communities for their efforts to improve the health and wellness of Iowans. Since the first awards ceremony in 2018, the Healthiest State Initiative has awarded $93,000 to 36 winners. Over the years, winners have used these funds to complete projects in their community, purchase new equipment for their schools or create walking paths around their campus.

SEE THE IMPACT: How winners spent their prize funds

9. Parks and water trails

parkIowans love to recreate outdoors! More than 155 million people have visited Iowa’s state parks since 2011 with greater than average visits in 2019 and 2020 – and Iowans are on pace to continue that trend in 2021. Since 2011, the State Parks Bureau has also added 1,397 acres. County parks have also grown in the past decade, adding 239 more areas (parks, trails, natural areas, preserves, historic sites, etc.) and 32,860 acres. Investment in Iowa’s water trails, recreational corridors and routes on rivers and lakes, has also increased: Iowa has designated 383 new miles of water trails since 2011, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

GET OUTSIDE: Guide to #99Parks in Iowa

10. 5-2-1-0 funded communities

5210Since 2017, The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) has provided 26 communities with grant funding to support 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count! through healthy eating and active living projects. These communities are encouraged to collaborate across multiple sectors and community leaders receive training on policy, system and environmental change as well as technical assistance to execute their projects.

5-2-1-0 IN ACTION: West Union | Mt. Ayr

The Healthiest State Initiative is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization driven by the goal to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation. By engaging worksites, communities, schools, retail food, organizations, institutions and individuals, we can inspire Iowans and their communities to improve their health and happiness, and ultimately achieve our goal.