Organization promoting children’s health comes to Iowa

Healthy LifeStars, a nonprofit organization expanding across the U.S., has recently settled in Iowa to promote healthy lifestyles among children.

Alexandra Skores, News Reporter

Healthy LifeStars, a program devoted to motivating children to live healthy lives, has arrived in the state for the first time.

The program is a nonprofit organization that promotes healthy living and active mindsets throughout a child’s life, according to the website.

The organization was founded by a group of volunteers in 2003 in response to an “alarming growth rate of childhood obesity,” according to the organizations’ website. Now, 1-in-3 children experience obesity, according to LifeStars.

Vickie Miene, the deputy director of the University of Iowa College of Public Health, said Healthy LifeStars has been a program in Arizona, Colorado, and Ohio for the last few years.

“The Healthy LifeStars board approached the University of Iowa and asked if we would be interested in building an arm of the Healthy LifeStars program,” Miene said. “After that outreach to the university, the provost reached out to me and asked if we wanted to make a connection with the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy, which is the institute that I direct.”

Iowa’s approach to the Healthy LifeStars program is different in comparison with other states, Miene said.

“We’re using the wonderful resources at the University of Iowa — like our students — to implement the program,” she said. “UI students are trained to teach the Healthy LifeStars program to kids in our after-school and elementary-school areas in Iowa City. We’re partnering with the neighborhood centers of Johnson County and more.”

The program has been really well-received, Miene said, and the children have enjoyed it.

“The program teaches three basic concepts: how to eat healthy, how to stay active, and how to set goals,” she said. “Those three things are taught to the kids through a variety of lessons. With each lesson comes at least 30 minutes of activity.”

The children enjoy playing such games as sharks and minnows, rock paper scissors extreme, all while being on their feet and staying active, Miene said.

Hailey Boudreau, a graduate research assistant with Healthy LifeStars, said that the opportunity to work with the children has grown to be something more for her.

“I started out leading the lessons,” she said. “This semester, I have taken on the management role for all of the coaches we have.”

The Iowa HealthyLifeStars program has sites at Lucas Elementary, Grant Wood Elementary, Garner Elementary, and Pheasant Ridge after-school program, Boudreau said. The program also partners with the Church of the Nazarene in Iowa City, and the program will seek to branch out to the Des Moines area.

“The program really focuses on healthy eating, goal setting, and physical activity — but I think the kids have seen other benefits as well,” Boudreau said. “Because they are brought together and we do group activity with them, they get the opportunity to intermix with kids they wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s kind of an unspoken achievement of the program.”

Interim Provost Sue Curry, also a distinguished professor in the College of Public Health, said she thought the opportunity to partner with the Healthy LifeStars would be great for students and the program.

“It has been a great opportunity to expand the kinds of community partnerships that are really important to the University of Iowa as a whole,” she said. “And also to expand the paradigm for the program as it’s been delivered. Through the partnership with the University of Iowa, we’ve brought school programs around the state to be able to participate in this and to engage students in the UI to be certified leaders — developing professional credentials and skills.”