UTHCT receives $20,000 grant from state health department to create wellness guide for churches and community groups

Thursday, January 26, 2006

One success often leads to another. That proved to be true for The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, which recently received a $20,000 state grant because of the success of an earlier program.

The Texas Department of State Health Services grant will fund the creation of the “Faith-based Guide to Well-thy Living,” said Christie Osuagwu, RN, director of UTHSCT’s Community Outreach and Health Disparities Department.

“The state health department was pleased with the outcome of our ’Body & Soul’ program last year. We worked with five African-American churches to improve their members’ health through promoting good nutrition and exercise,” she said.

After three months of “Body & Soul,” each of the more than 120 participants had lost an average of 5 pounds; their average body mass index had dropped to 30 from 35, Osuagwu said. A person with a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese. The program was so successful that the health department made it a model for the state.

“Now, the health department wants us to develop a faith-based guide with instructions and information based on the “Body & Soul” program. The notebook will have sections devoted to nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction,” she said. Osuagwu, a certified family nurse practitioner, has a Master of Science in nursing and a master’s degree in public administration. She is principal investigator for the grant.

After the notebook is finished, churches and community groups may use it to start health promotion programs for their members, Osuagwu said. She and LaShonda Malrey, a project specialist in Osuagwu’s department, are working to select six churches for the “Well-thy Living” pilot program.

“If we can motivate participants to achieve the goals of good nutrition, regular physical activity, and stress reduction, we will lower their chances of developing obesity, high blood pressure, and diseases such as diabetes,” Osuagwu said.

The goal is to sign up two churches with multicultural congregations, one with a majority of African-American members, two with a majority of Hispanic members, and one with a majority of Anglo members, Malrey said.

“This is a new program, and is the first time it will be tested. We’ll develop and refine the program, and we’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t,” Malrey said.

Malrey and Osuagwu already have received surveys from 65 area churches asking about their members’ health problems and how these churches might become involved in helping to remedy those problems.

“We will use survey data to select the participating churches and to plan health promotions and educational activities. The first couple of months will be spent on church selection and program planning; we hope to begin ‘Well-thy Living’ by late spring,” she said. The grant will end in August, and the guide will be given to the state health department.

“The health department wants a program that can be reproduced. Because of its commitment to reduce obesity among Texans, the health department is willing to support programs such as this. We hope to again become a model for the state,” Malrey said.

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