The Online Small Steps to Health and Wealth(TM) Challenge: A Model for Interdisciplinary FCS Programs

Article excerpt

Both health and personal finance issues are in the headlines frequently. Problems that have been widely reported in recent years include an increase in diabetes, high percentages of overweight and obese adults and children, low savings rates, and high household debt. If ever there was a tailormade agenda for family and consumer sciences (FCS) professionals, health and wealth is it! (See Sidebar.) For over a century, FCS programs have been improving the diet/health and financial security of consumers-two important objectives of the profession. All too often, however, these two subject areas have been addressed individually with separate staff, research literature, and outreach methods (Vitt, Siegenthaler, Siegenthaler, Lyter, & Kent, 2002). This is unfortunate as there are many linkages between health and personal finance; many common factors affect good health habits and foster financial success (Hollerith, 2004; O'Neill & Ensle, 2006).

Enter the Small Steps to Health and Wealth(TM) Challenge, a personalized, behaviorally focused program in which participants track points for performing recommended health and financial practices daily. The Challenge is part oí Small Steps to Health and Wealth(TM) (SSHW), a national Cooperative Extension program, designed to motivate people to take action to simultaneously improve their health and personal finances (O'Neill, 2006; O'Neill & Ensle, 2006). SSHW was developed around a framework of 25 behavior change strategies grounded in expert health and financial recommendations and theories about changing human behavior (e.g., the Transtheoretical Model of Change). The target authence for SSHW, the SSHW Challenge, and associated research is working adults ages 25 to 65.

SSHW Challenge Features

The SSHW Challenge helps participants put Small Steps to Health and Wealth(TM) behavior change strategies into daily action. It was originally developed in a paper and pencil format, with printed tracking forms to record points that were reported to local organizers via faxes and e-mails. In 2010, with funding from an Excellence in Extension grant from the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences (AAFCS), the SSHW Challenge became available online, taking the program worldwide. (The original printed tracking form can still be downloaded for users to record their daily activities before points are entered online.)

Periodic, publicly announced online challenges, with prizes, that run for a fixed period of time (e.g., 5 or 6 weeks) can be accessed at http://njaes.rutgers.edu/sshw. In addition, users can "challenge" themselves indefinitely by enrolling in an annual "non- competitive" challenge that runs for an entire year. The non-competitive challenge is not part of an official competition with prizes, but it is a way for people to track their progress and have their points tallied online and compared with others.

The online SSHW Challenge is based on the performance of 10 recommended practices on a daily basis: five involve health and nutrition and five involve financial management. Ten points are given for performing each one (100 points possible per day). The five daily health and nutrition practices are eat at least 4 cups of fruits and vegetables; get at least 30 minutes of exercise; drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sugarsweetened beverages; walk 10,000 or more steps with a pedometer; and learn something new about health and nutrition.

The five daily financial management practices included in the SSHW Challenge are save $1 (or more) and/or pocket change; invest $5 or more per day (including automated retirement savings plan deposits); track money spent throughout the day; eat lunch prepared at home; and learn something new about personal finance. The "learn something new" activity, for both health and personal finances, can be accomplished by visiting websites, attending seminars, or by reading, listening to, or viewing media reports. …