Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative
- Need: Data from around 2008 demonstrated that close to 70% of adults and 37% of children ages 4 and under in Northeast Iowa are overweight or obese.
- Intervention: An 6-county initiative that provided support and access to locally-grown, healthy foods, along with promotion of active lifestyles, particularly for rural children.
- Results: As of 2019, the program continues to engage communities and schools in healthy activities and food choices
The Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative (FFI) includes 6 rural counties of dedicated community members who strive to make their communities a healthier place to live through locally-grown food and opportunities for physical activity.
In the first years of operation, FFI used regional learning communities to promote strong relationships.This dynamic promoted policy changes leading to increased access to local healthy food and opportunities for physical activity – especially for early childhood and K-12 schools. Development of local food systems is an another focus.
Additionally, FFI sought youth involvement in the program's activities. Eighteen high school-based Food & Fitness Teams worked to develop healthy school atmospheres and policies for food and fitness by working alongside administrators, teachers, wellness committees and food service teams.
Originally, four core partners supported the program which received a total of more than 8 years of funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Food & Community Program. According to the foundation, FFI was one of six Food and Fitness Initiatives throughout the country that received the funding.
Though Kellogg support ended in 2017, FFI efforts continue with the help of endowment funds, allowing continuation of its core mission providing healthy choices so "that every day all people in NE Iowa have access to healthy, locally grown foods and abundant opportunities for physical activity and play."
During the funded years, school wellness services were provided through FFI:
- School wellness team support and policy development
- AmeriCorps and Food Corps service members for schools
- Farm to School and school gardens
- Food service training and support
- Rural model for Farm to Early Childcare
- Rural model for Safe Routes to School
- Youth engagement
- Parent outreach
- Iowa Food Hub
Since its 2008 origin, continued growth was noted in all program areas. In its final year, 2017 FFI Regional Impact results included:
- A 17% increase in Farm to Early Care and Education program (F2EC) settings from 2016 (70 vs. 60)
- F2ECE offered to in-home daycare providers
- 14 school districts and parochial schools purchased nearly $65,000 in local food
- Over 1,800 students engaged in bike safety activities at 24 Bike Rodeos where over 600 bike helmets were given
- Locally-grown food use
The Northeast Iowa collaborative was active in a large geographical region spanning 6 rural counties, distance presents itself as the most significant challenge. Communities utilized many successful strategies to compensate for distance, including: county convener assignments reaching out to new stakeholders; monthly meetings; communication processes across counties through webinars, teleconferences, and emails; region-wide meetings; and topical work groups for county representatives on a monthly basis.
To address policies and concerns regarding procuring and preparing locally-grown food produce in the school system, the State Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship clarified the rules for locally grown food stuffs in a letter to the schools. This letter supported that locally-grown produce could be served if clean and verified.
Contact InformationNortheast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative
Children and youth
Obesity and weight control
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention
November 2, 2015
Date updated or reviewed
April 30, 2019
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2019. Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/853 [Accessed 5 December 2020]
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