University of Delaware Cooperative Extension has teamed up with the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition in the College of Health Sciences to help Delawareans improve their fitness and eating habits as part of the inaugural “Yes We Can Healthy Living Challenge.”
The challenge, which has as its motto “Eat Better, Move More, Live Well,” is funded by a Delaware Division of Public Health grant to the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition and is part of the Healthy Lifestyles Interventions: A Community Cooperative Agreement grant.
The seven-month challenge encourages individual and community wellness through a friendly competition among teams, which identify strategies for individuals and teams to improve physical activity and eating habits. Teams can enroll at any time during the challenge period.
Points are assigned to a variety of activities and each person earns points for completing an activity. Each month, individuals and teams will log their efforts and receive points.
“The idea behind the challenge is to get people to make some healthier choices about what they eat, how much they exercise, and how they engage their families or their communities in order to help support them in making those decisions,” said Maria Pippidis, New Castle County Extension director. “It’s really not just about what can I do but about how can we do this together. That’s why we’re calling it ‘Yes We Can,’ because it’s about togetherness and working toward whatever the healthy living goals might be for an individual.”
Kathleen Splane, Extension agent and state program leader for family and consumer sciences, said that in addition to improving healthy habits among individuals and teams, the hope is to also make participants aware of available Extension programs.
“The team members are able to get points based on things such as eating well, being more physically active and getting a good night’s sleep, but one of the main ways that they can get points is by coming to Cooperative Extension programs,” said Splane. “Then they get kind of bonus points for attending Cooperative Extension programs. So we have it as an incentive based team approach where we’re averaging the team scores and then we have different incentives for different levels.”
Elizabeth Orsega-Smith, associate professor in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition, said the challenge has been a three-year project, with the researchers spending the first year conducting interviews and focus groups to get information from potential program participants about their perceptions of active living and healthy eating.
After the initial interviews and after identifying key stakeholders to help promote the project within the communities, Orsega-Smith said that the team-based approach will allow them to “allot points for various physical activities that people may be doing, such as walking, and also things such as trying a healthy recipe or eating a meal with your family.”
Orsega-Smith said that through pre- and post-questionnaires, they are hoping to see some change in fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity from the participants.
The challenge officially kicked off with two events held recently in New Castle and Kent counties.
Both events had interactive, educational displays — such as making better fast food choices and stretching the food dollar — as well as healthy living activities. Healthy recipes with food samples also were available for participants to try.
At the event in Kent County, participants took part in a shopping challenge where they went through a mock grocery store and used a certain amount of money to create a meal that included every part of MyPlate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition program.
“They were evaluated on cost effectiveness, nutrition, and how well they did with what they picked. That was, I think, the highlight of the event,” said Splane.
At the New Castle County event, in addition to the interactive exhibits, student groups such as the University’s Zumba Club, the Nutrition and Dietetics Club, Health Behavior Science Club, Public Health Club, and Health and Physical Education Majors Club, were on hand to staff displays and engage children in attendance with fun games such as one involving a parachute and a bean bag toss.
Orsega-Smith said that they wanted to get the student groups involved in the project so they can “have a real experience in looking at how they can make an impact in the community.”
There was also a soccer game at the New Castle County event featuring players from the Delupes Soccer League, with the winner taking home a Healthy Living Challenge Cup.
While the New Castle County program is primarily geared toward the Hispanic population and the Kent County program toward the African-American population, Splane and Pippidis stressed that the challenge is open to anyone who wants to participate.
Pippidis said that key partners in the challenge include churches in both counties.
Orsega-Smith said that it has been great to partner with Extension on the project because they already have key connections within the communities.
“They are the individuals who actually have a buy in with the community because people are familiar with Cooperative Extension and familiar with the programs,” said Orsega-Smith.
For more information on the Healthy Living Challenge, visit the website.
Article by Adam Thomas
Photos by Wenbo Fan
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