Tami Finley knew she had to make changes in her life earlier this year when she found out she had diabetes.

She started eating better, checking labels for calories, fat content and carbs. In addition, she began taking water aerobic classes at the Life Fitness Center in Bettendorf.

Her efforts got a boost in April when the Bettendorf Library, where she works, started a program that encouraged employees to lose weight by eating right and working out. To date, Finley has lost 12 pounds and plans to keep at her efforts.

And she now has one more incentive to do so.

Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge announced a new statewide initiative that challenges Iowans to set personal exercise and nutrition goals. The program, dubbed “Your Heart is in Your Hands,” allows participants to track their progress online and rewards them for meeting their goals with gold, silver and bronze medals.

“You can walk down the streets and see people are heavier and less fit,” Judge said on Friday. “We need to change that.”

The challenge, aimed at combating heart disease, started last week and already nearly 3,000 people have signed up for it. Iowa’s participation rate is the second highest in the nation, despite other states starting earlier, Judge said.

Judge cited statistics that included 67 percent of adults in Iowa being overweight or obese. In addition, she said 9,300 adults in 2007 died from heart disease, while 90,000 in the state suffered a heart attack.

For Nancy Medema, it isn’t heart disease that is prompting her to eat better and become physically fit. The Bettendorf Library worker was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.

“It’s that eye-opening experience that makes you pay attention to what garbage we put in our mouths,” Medema said.

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