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Quad-Cities, you have a weight problem. And you need to eat more healthy foods. Here's what's being done to help.

Quad-Cities, you have a weight problem. And a healthy eating problem.

More Quad-Citians are overweight than in Iowa, Illinois and the U.S. at large. In the Quad-Cities, 72.9 percent of adults have a body mass index, or BMI, of 25 or more, and only 25.3 percent are in the healthy zone of 18.5-24.9 BMI. Only 28.2 percent eat five or more servings of vegetables and fruits a day, also below the U.S. at large.

As a result, Scott and Rock Island health departments identified nutrition, physical activity and weight as a priority health issue in its Community Health Improvement Plan. It’s the second priority, behind only mental health.

So what’s being done in the Quad-Cities to help?

Getting an early start on health eating

The Rock Island Health Department mainly helps improve nutrition and physical health through its Women, Infants and Children program. “We spend a lot of time talking to pregnant women and parents of fairly young children up to age five,” said Janet Hill, Rock Island Health Department Chief Operating Officer. “So if a child comes in with a risk factor of potentially being overweight or currently weight is a little high for height or length at that point, we talk to parents about what to do strategy-wise to help the kids.” 

W.I.C. is available for those who are breastfeeding or pregnant and for children up to age 5. Family income must be at 185 percent or less of the federal poverty level.

W.I.C also offers healthy eating tips, like drink less milk and juice. Hill says people go above the nutritional requirements, and while milk is very healthy and important it is also high-calorie. 

Making the better choice is something W.I.C stresses, Hill said. Opt for water or a low-calorie drink over pop, for example, and make use of W.I.C. supplemental food and vouchers to buy healthy fruits and vegetables. 

RICO Health Department health educator Mariah Benson also attends health fairs and talk about making healthy choices.

For example, she’ll talk about U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, which recommends a diet of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and limited refined carbohydrates. “We talk about it from the time a mother’s pregnant to when the child is ready to go to school, so we hope that the family has that information that they need so when they’re no longer on W.I.C., they still have the information and education we’ve given them.” 

Promoting ways to stay active

QC Health Initiative promotes a program called Be Healthy QC to encourage physical activity and healthy eating, said Nicole Carkner, executive director.

One partner is QC Trails, which helps provide a “one-stop-shop” for hiking and biking trails in the area. “The website provides information on all those trails in the Quad-Cities area. Folks can go there and find information about how to get to the trails and information about the actual features of the trails,” Carkner said. “So the whole idea is that we can help people connect with that resource and encourage the use of those outdoor amenities as a way to encourage physical activity overall.” 

The Initiative also partners with national program Safe Routes to School that helps parents and children travel to school by walking or biking. 

Making fitness fun and productive

Bettendorf Family YMCA Director Luis Leal, who has also served as the fitness director for the Scott County Family YMCA, says the most important thing is getting people through the door. “We can’t address people in the parking lot, so as a community we try to get out into the community as often as we can,” he said.

One example is the upcoming Turkey Trot, the Thanksgiving Day 5K that helps raise money for the Y.

People interested in a Y membership receive a tour, where staff asks them about their health goals.

“Obviously they’re here in the facility, but let’s tailor that experience to their lifestyle, to what they’re looking for,” Leal said. That can be exercise in the pool or on the indoor track. They’ll also get a custom-built program with a coach to point them in the right direction, from lifestyle to meal plans to what motivates them to come.

Leal says to get healthy you need to have a plan. “Always have a plan before you walk into the facility so you don’t regress and end up playing that guessing game.” 

In addition, Leal stresses that you shouldn’t starve yourself. “When you go into working out for the first time in a while, you’re going to start depleting carbs a little quicker,” he said. “Have a meal, a lighter meal, come work out and then you want to replenish that after that.” 

Employers offer assistance

Genesis Employee Wellness Coordinator Stacia Carroll says the health system provides programs centered around three themes: Eating Well, Moving More and Feeling Better.

“Knowing that if our workforce is well, we’re going to be better equipped to live the mission of the organization,” she said.

For “Eating Well,” they’ve held cooking classes and partnered with area grocery stores, offering things like a plant-based cooking class in June for both employees and the public. “So anytime we can coordinate something that’s available to the Genesis workforce but we can also open it up to the community, we try to,” Carroll said.

To help employees be more active, Genesis offers access to on-site fitness and tracking logs to help people incorporate physical activities into their workday. They’ve partnered with WellBeats, a resource that lets people access virtual fitness content anytime, anywhere. 

On “Feeling Better,” Genesis focuses on happiness, positivity and resiliency, with a website available for employees to learn more based on those ideals. They’ve partnered with an organization’s initiative, “Joyages,” that provides personal training to help reduce stress and build resiliency. “It helps people overcome and cope with the regular challenges of life so that they can be as productive as possible at home and at work,” Carroll said. They also offer a financial fitness program that offers consumer education on topics like getting out of debt and personal finance.

“It needs to come from the top”

UnityPoint Health Wellness Supervisor Joni Griffin believes there needs to be more support from companies for wellness. 

“I’d like to see more companies get involved, and really I think every company needs to have some type of wellness program or wellness committee,” Griffin said. “It needs to come from the top and they need to set the example and let the employees know that they care about their health.” 

UnityPoint Health offers the community a program that focuses on exercise, nutrition and wellness.

“They’ve lost weight, their health has greatly improved,” Director of Cardiology Services Kathy Pulley said. It has been such a success that it’s expanded from being a program for people who have had a cardiac event to a program for anyone who just wants to be healthier.

“Cooking with Heart,” which Pulley called the best-kept secret in the Quad-Cities, is a six-week series of classes at UnityPoint’s nutrition center. A dietitian prepares a meal and talks about staying healthy while enjoying food.

The cardiac program has gotten a lot of support from UnityPoint’s cardiologists, Pulley said. “Their position was we can fix the patients, we can put stents in and fix their hearts but then they’re going to turn around and go home and return to the lifestyle they had in the first place,” she said. “So we’re talking our program up a notch and teaching them how to live a much healthier lifestyle.” 

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