Healthy LifeStars challenges childhood obesity in Iowa

An innovative program that tackles childhood obesity — the number one health problem for American children — will soon be making its debut in Iowa. Aimed at elementary-age kids, the LifeStar Challenge motivates and teaches children how to live active, healthy lives now and in the future.

The program is being implemented through a partnership between Healthy LifeStars and the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy based in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Healthy LifeStars is a national non-profit organization dedicated to ending childhood obesity through education, awareness and changed habits to influence future generations of healthy children.

Nationally, one in three children is overweight or obese and obesity rates for Iowa children have increased in recent years.  Iowa is now ranked 30th among the 51 states and territories for childhood obesity and Iowa has the 13th highest adult obesity rate in the nation. Healthy LifeStars was founded in 2003 to address childhood obesity and has reached more than 35,000 kids in Arizona and Colorado. In 2018, it launched programs in Iowa and Ohio and has the goal of growing nationwide.

The LifeStar Challenge teaches kids and their families the three Healthy Life Habits: setting personal health goals, taking part in vigorous physical activity every day and eating the right foods in the right amounts. Each child receives a lanyard and chain to display reward tokens. Kids earn a colorful plastic star every time they achieve one of the goals they set for themselves. Everything organizers need to get started is included in a simple kit with additional information online.

The Iowa Healthy LifeStars program will be offered at no charge, thanks to a gift from the Stead Family Foundation and Jerre and Mary Joy Stead, two former Iowans who are among the most generous donors to the University of Iowa.

“We’re excited to introduce this program in Iowa and expand it statewide,” says Vickie Miene, interim director of the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy (IIPHRP) and director of the Iowa Healthy LifeStars program. “Our goal is to enroll 5,400 kids in the first three years in both urban and rural locations.”

The LifeStar Challenge will begin in Iowa this fall with several sites in the Iowa City area. The program will be delivered in before- and after-school programs and will be led in part by University of Iowa student coaches

“We will build a network of UI student volunteers who will be an integral part of getting this program off the ground in Iowa,” Miene explains. “UI students from a variety of majors have already expressed interest in volunteering as LifeStars coaches and will contribute ideas to the program through a UI student advisory council. In addition, UI students will contribute to social media articles and healthy lifestyle campaigns associated with the program.”

IIPHRP will partner with additional schools, youth-serving organizations and health initiatives to continue to grow the program across the state.

“All of the tools are available online and the program is flexible, so it’s easy to implement in a variety of settings,” says Miene.