Skip to main content

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."


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


  • Distance
  • Locally-grown food use


For more information on the locally-grown foods used in the school menus, visit FFI's Farm to School Cycle Menu section as well as the summary of Iowa-grown foods used in the menu.

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 Information

Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative

Children and youth
Obesity and weight control
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention

States served

Date added
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: [Accessed 5 December 2020]

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.