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Healthiest State Initiative announces five key priorities, work groups to improve Iowa’s well-being

DES MOINES — Iowa’s efforts to become No. 1 in well-being will include focus on five key priorities in the coming year, according to Ric Jurgens, board chairperson for the Healthiest State Initiative.

Iowa currently ranks 16th in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, the official measurement tool of the Healthiest State Initiative. The WBI is a comprehensive daily measurement of the nation’s physical, emotional and social health. Brought to Iowa by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield as part of the Blue Zones Project and the Healthiest State Initiative, the WBI is the largest and most complete measurement tool for well-being in existence today. It includes more than 50 questions related to physical, emotional and mental health. 

“Iowans do well on some aspects of well-being and not as well on others,” Jurgens said.“Working with a team of experts, we have identified five priority areas most likely to improve Iowa’s ranking.”

The priority areas include:

• Decreasing the number of Iowans who smoke,

• Increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables to five or more servings daily at least four days a week,

• Increasing the number of Iowans who are learning something new or interesting every day,

• Increasing the number of Iowans who have visited the dentist in the last 12 months, and

• Increasing the number of working Iowans who feel their boss treats them like a partner at work.

To focus efforts in these areas, five work groups — Nutrition, Tobacco Use, Workplace Well-Being, Dental Health and Lifelong Learning — are being assembled. 

Dr. Marianette Miller-Meeks, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, will chair the Nutrition work group. David Vellinga, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Medical Center-Des Moines, will chair the Tobacco Use work group. Bill Leaver, president and chief executive officer of Iowa Health System, will chair the Workplace Well-Being work group. Suzanne Heckenlaible, vice president of public affairs for Delta Dental of Iowa will chair the Dental Health work group. Ben Allen, president of the University of Northern Iowa, will chair the Lifelong Learning work group.

Collectively, the work group chairs will constitute a Healthiest State Cabinet to advise the Healthiest State Initiative board. The Healthiest State Cabinet will be responsible for development of strategies that will change the health and well-being of Iowans.

Jurgens said each work group chair will convene a panel of experts from across the state to develop specific recommendations to improve Iowa’s performance in the priority areas. Those recommendations are expected by spring of 2013. 

To support potential financial requirements of various initiatives, a fundraising committee chaired by Steve Flood, senior vice president of Holmes Murphy, is being created.

According to Jurgens, the work on these five priority areas will supplement other Healthiest State Initiative programs and general educational efforts.

“We continue to see tremendous enthusiasm for our goal to become the healthiest state in the nation,” Jurgens said.“With great centerpiece programs and action plans to address key priority areas, we will further improve the well-being of Iowans.”

The Healthiest State Initiative is a privately led, publicly endorsed effort that engages Iowans and their communities throughout the state. It involves individuals, families, businesses, faith-based organizations, not-for-profits and the public sector in a broad-based community-focused effort to improve well-being. For more information, visit

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