Bettendorf wants to be healthier.
Or at least make ways to move more, eat better and connect more accessible and convenient. That's why city staff, schools and other partners are taking part in the Healthy Hometown Initiative by Wellmark, a Des Moines-based insurance company.
The initiative uses strategies from Wellmark analysts that aim to make healthier choices, like moving more and eating healthier, easier for residents. That could mean making walking and biking safer in the city and having schools and workplaces promote healthy food options in vending machines and concession stands.
“It's not about taking things away,” said Kim Kidwell, Bettendorf’s director of culture and recreation. “It's not about OK, we can't get a hot dog and a Hershey bar (at a concession stand), it's about adding things in, like can we provide carrots and apples, too, for those who maybe want to choose that instead?”
Bettendorf launched its campaign at the end of 2020.
Part of Bettendorf’s plan is to create a more walkable downtown. Kidwell said members of the Healthy Hometown Initiative steering committee did a walking audit of the downtown to see how it could be more pedestrian friendly, like widening the sidewalks and adding a landscape buffer between the road and the sidewalk.
“One of the ideas was to have a road diet,” Kidwell said, “which means you shrink the road down to less lanes than it already has and what that does is make traffic a little slower and you’re able to do that extra landscaping and bump-outs on the sidewalks so that there’s more of a buffer.”
Kidwell said the group, along with the Downtown Bettendorf Organization, was creating a report to the City Council outlining details of costs, time frames and what would bring the most benefits. The council would decide what to prioritize.
The initiative also helps workplaces build in healthier options, like healthy snacks at the vending machines and adding bike racks. Bettendorf Human Resources Generalist Brooke Sweeney-Adrian promoted the idea at Bettendorf Business Network meeting.
“If you go into your break room, and the only options that you have in the vending machine are unhealthy, you’re sort of set up for failure, right?” Sweeney-Adrian said.
Sweeney-Adrian said the city launched a survey for businesses to gauge what barriers they faced to promoting healthy options in the workplace so the steering committee could get an idea of what programs or promotions could help.
Also part of the Bettendorf plan is moving the farmer’s market, a source of fresh produce, to a more centrally located place, reviewing school and community concession menus and adding more healthy foods like carrots and apples, adding water stations especially along trails and in schools, adding community gardens and edible landscaping, installing bike racks, promoting walking or biking groups, and developing a nicotine-free park policy (Bettendorf already has a no-smoking policy within 50 feet of children playing in public parks).
Also part of the initiative is promoting existing amenities, said Jim Cushing, community health manager with Wellmark. Bettendorf already has more than 35 miles of existing separated and recreational trails and bike lines, according to Brent Morlok, Bettendorf City Engineer.
Wellmark launched a version of the Healthy Hometown Initiative, which is free for cities who participate, after Wellmark and its board developed a goal in 2008 to help dampen the rise in health care prices to keep consistent with the Consumer Price Index, said Mary Lawyer, Wellmark’s director of community health improvement.
“They saw that health care costs were rising at rates that really weren’t sustainable,” Lawyer said. “So they decided that we needed to kind of get upstream from managing disease and treating disease and try to figure out how to shut off the spigot of what was causing our health care issues and rising costs.”
According to the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 6 in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease, such as heart disease and stroke, cancer or diabetes. Chronic diseases are leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. and are a driver of health care costs, according to the same center.
Lawyer said Wellmark started to look at cities' built environments and tried to brainstorm ways to make exercise and healthy eating more convenient.
"They started looking at this concept that our environments changed a lot in the past 20 to 30 years. And those environmental changes where we've convenienced a lot of things, taken movement out of our day, eaten a lot more processed foods, has led to the rise in obesity and more chronic disease. And so they started looking at an approach that said, 'OK, if we change our built environment, apply behavioral economics principles and pass policy that helps everyone make healthier choices,' that's kind of the route we want to go.”
Wellmark works with city officials and other stakeholders by advising on strategies, providing email and social media promotion templates. The program is free for cities that participate. Lawyer said Wellmark works with cities as long as they need them to.