Bi-state program targets obesity

In an effort aimed at the obesity epidemic, The Prevention Research Center at Dartmouth has teamed up with community partners in Keene and Manchester in New Hampshire as well as St. Johnsbury, Vt., to conduct a community-based participatory research project, InSHAPE Together.

With the vision of improving the cardiovascular health of residents in New Hampshire and Vermont, particularly in more vulnerable populations, academic and community leaders have come together to harness local resources and social networks to study the Prevention Research Center's core, InSHAPE (Individualized Self Health Action Plan for Empowerment) model.

"We know that social support and community contexts that support healthy living are key components for addressing the growing epidemic of obesity in our country," said Karen Schifferdecker, the principal investigator from The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. "Our community partners are leaders in promoting healthy living and we are proud to be working with them on this effort."

InSHAPE Together builds on a community-based model first developed and implemented by Monadnock Family Services in Keene. The model focuses on individuals with serious mental illness, partners them with health coaches and encourages them to establish and to take responsibility for managing individual health plans, which include goals to increase their physical activity and to improve nutritional choices.

"InSHAPE has helped to change the lives and improve the health status of many people participating in the program, and due to its success, has been replicated in organizations in four other states," said Ken Jue, creator of the Keene program.

In addition to promoting personal improvement, the larger aim of InSHAPE Together is to develop new knowledge about effective approaches and interventions that account for community "context" and move these partner communities closer to their goal of "fit and healthy community populations" and ultimately toward a sustainable community health improvement model.

InSHAPE Together will bring 30 participants ages 12 and older together to increase physical activity and make more nutritious food choices. They will be taught strategies to set goals and test small changes in their behavior, track improvements in activity and food selections, identify barriers and facilitators to healthy eating and active living in their communities, and how to draw upon the support of team members to reach personal goals.

According to Dr. Rudy Fedrizzi, project co-investigator and director of community health clinical integration at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, "Testing this innovative, intergenerational approach to health improvement is an important community-based collaboration that aligns perfectly with our efforts to become the healthiest community in the nation by 2020. In the coming years, we'll apply what we learn from this study to promote healthier eating and more active living throughout our county and beyond."

Meetings were set to begin in July and occur monthly until March 2013. Over the course of the program, participants will work in teams to share strategies, motivate and support each other. At the end of the project, teams will come together to organize a community event that uses knowledge learned in the project to improve resources for healthy eating and active living in their community.

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