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The Youth Fitness & Obesity was established at the University of Northern Iowa in 2001 through funding from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) was instrumental in securing funding for the institute through the appropriations report.

The primary mission of the institute is to address the physical activity and
nutrition needs of children and adolescents, particularly those residing in
small towns and rural communities. Continued support from the CDC through earmark appropriations has enabled the institute to expand its programs and services throughout the state. The institute provides the basic infrastructure and serves a as coordinating center for a multifaceted approach independent, yet related programs that address the physical activity and nutrition needs of children and adolescents.