A Healthier Weigh: Nutrition and Health Education on the Web

Article excerpt

In 2009, Colorado had the lowest rate of obesity and overweight in the United States with less than 20% of the adult population considered obese or overweight (Centers for Disease Control, 2009). In 2007, 78% of Americans were not meeting the basic level of activity recommended and 24% were completely sedentary (Centers for Disease Control, 2007). The health implications are serious because being overweight and/or obese increases the risks for chronic diseases. As a consequence, the incidence of Type II diabetes in adults has tripled since 1990, with excess weight identified as a major cause (Centers for Disease Control, 2008).

After a search of programs offered by Extension throughout the U. S. that addressed issues of inactivity and weight loss, no one program seemed to meet the needs of Extension clientele in rural Colorado. As result, a unique education program, A Healthier Weigh, was developed. The program is a web-based nutrition and health challenge to encourage teams of participants to (a) increase physical activity; (b) increase knowledge of nutrition, health, and fitness; (c) make healthy food choices; (d) reduce risk for chronic disease; and (e) lose an appropriate percentage of body weight.

Since 2006, 934 individuals have enrolled in the 12 -week A Healthier Weigh annual health and fitness challenge as a member of a team. Teams are formed by co-workers, family members, business or organization associates, and neighbors/friends. It has grown from being conducted in one county in 2006 to eight counties in Eastern Colorado in 2010.

Participants' ages range from the mid-20s to early 80s; 14% are male; 9% are Hispanic. Many rural counties do not have health clubs or recreational centers; participants might have to travel as much as 100 miles round trip for nutrition and health classes if this program was not available. Approximately 65% of A Healthier Weigh participants were new to Extension family and consumer sciences (FCS) programs. Since participating in the challenge, many have enrolled in other FCS programs.

All of the four-person challenge teams meet as a group twice during the 12 -week program - at weigh-in and weigh-out. Teams weigh on a warehouse scale at a community business so no one's weight is revealed. After weigh-in, there is no face-to-face contact between program coordinators and challenge team members until the team weigh-out at the end. Lessons are provided on a password protected regional Extension website with a new lesson posted each week (see Sidebar).

As teams repeated A Healthier Weigh y a second set of 12 lessons was written, and a third year of lessons is being developed. For each lesson, participants answer three or four web-based questions including at least one about a behavior change or strategy they will implement for health and wellness. Team members complete the lessons individually with scores compiled for the team. All team members have to complete lessons to be eligible for end-of -program awards.

Activity is also reported as a team using results from pedometers issued to each participant along with times for other exercises or activities that are converted to steps. Weekly team totals are reported by each team captain electronically to the program coordinator. …