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Health 'Challenge' up and running

Many people talk a good game about eating healthier, exercising more and losing weight. But employees from seven agencies in Humboldt Park aren’t playing around.

The group has launched a pilot “Healthy Lifestyles Challenge,” through which participating employees will measure their progress in reducing weight and body fat, pursue exercising opportunities, and attend nutrition education sessions.

“We’re going to tally all the data and see what worked and didn’t work,” said Mayra Hernandez, NCP director for Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp.

The participating agencies in the six-month pilot project, which will start in November and hopefully lead to a community-wide initiative next summer, include: Association House, Bickerdike, Centro San Bonifacio, Erie Family Health, McCormick Tribune YMCA, West Town Leadership United, and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center ’s CO-OP Humboldt Park (Community Organizing for Obesity Prevention) project. Others may yet join up.

The “Healthy Lifestyles Challenge” furthers a key plank of the Humboldt Park quality-of-life plan, which contains a strategy to “create a community of wellness where health is a dimension of community improvement” and a corresponding project to “promote active lifestyles for adults and youth to combat obesity and related health problems.”

Those needs were underscored in a Sinai Urban Health Institute survey that showed 37 percent of people in Humboldt Park would be considered overweight and another 35 percent obese, based on Body Mass Index (BMI) calculations of 25 or more and 30 or more, respectively.

A Sept. 5, 2004, outreach effort by CO-OP Humboldt Park , in which 517 people participated as they strolled along Division Street, found similar results of 38 percent overweight and 36 percent obese. In Chicago overall, 24 percent are obese, according to the Sinai “Improving Community Health Survey,” conducted in 2002.

To work on slimming down those figures, a coordinator at each organization will collect and record individuals’ weight and body fat, along with their frequency of exercise as measured by average number of daily “steps.” The latter is a rating system developed by the YMCA’s “Activate America ” program to capture the relative health benefits of everything from aerobic dancing to yoga. (See www.americaonthemove.org for more information.)

An individual participant might decide to set a goal of 40,000 “steps” per week, for example, said Miguel Palacio, associate director at Association House, who’s coordinating the effort along with Hernandez, Miguel Morales of Co-op Humboldt Park and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center , and Migdalia Jimenez of Association House.

Jeanette Robles, executive director at the YMCA, noted that “focusing entirely on weight would be discouraging” and not the only relevant measure. Tracking steps “might be the light bulb: ‘Maybe I need to be a little bit more active,’ ” she said.

Organizations will work to promote exercise opportunities, such as walking clubs and a release time of perhaps one-half hour per day for employees to burn calories. The coordinator at each agency will disseminate information about activities at locations such as the YMCA and act as liaison for the overall effort.

Participating organizations also are setting up a twice-monthly series of educational presentations for employees to attend, with local hospitals and clinics presenting information and the University of Illinois Extension program’s health and nutrition workshops among those on the agenda.

They hope to have “a different subject matter each month,” Robles said, with workshops at the YMCA, Humboldt Park field house, and other locations. Samples of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables typically will be provided for attendees to enjoy. “We’re hoping to incorporate the produce baskets from Co-op Humboldt Park to promote healthy eating,” Hernandez said.

Agencies involved are signing contracts saying they will follow the agreed upon reporting timelines, and employees will share their measures of progress. “The idea is to see whether there’s been a change in the attitude or behavior” of participants, said Morales.

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Parks/Recreation, Data, Documentation, Partners, Planning process, Health

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