Tyler area churches sought to participate in pilot project using wellness guide developed by UTHCT

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Two Tyler area churches have signed up, but four more are needed to participate in the first health and wellness program using the “Faith-based Guide to Well-thy Living,” a workbook designed by the Community Outreach and Health Disparities Department at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

“If we can motivate participants to practice good nutrition, engage in regular physical activity, and reduce stress, we will lower their chances of developing obesity, high blood pressure, and diseases such as diabetes,” said Christie Osuagwu, RN, director of the UTHSCT department.

In January, UT Health Science Center received a $20,000 grant from the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop the guide. It follows in the footsteps of “Body & Soul,” a successful UT Health Science Center program designed to improve the health of African-American church members by educating them about the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables and promoting exercise.

Participants in Body & Soul lost an average of five pounds in three months and significantly lowered their body mass index, said Osuagwu, a certified family nurse practitioner and principal investigator for the grant.

The “Well-thy Living” guide is a workbook – based on “Body & Soul” and another heart-healthy program called “Search Your Heart” – with sections devoted to nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction. And it is designed to be used by all churches or community groups regardless of their race or ethnicity.

Seeing the program work in the real world is vital, said LaShonda Malrey-Horne, a project specialist in Community Outreach and Health Disparities. She and Osuagwu have spent the past few months designing and producing the workbook.

Currently, two churches have joined the program and four others are still being sought. The churches currently committed to the program are St. Louis Baptist Church and the Lighthouse of Prayer in Troup. Churches who are interested in joining the program should contact Osuagwu or Malrey-Horne at (903) 877-7804.

“The pilot program is an opportunity to develop and refine the guide. You don’t really know how it will work until you go out and do it. You have to know how to communicate and interact effectively with different communities,” she said. These first participants will evaluate the program, and their feedback will be incorporated into the final version.

The “Well-thy Living” program takes three months, with the first month devoted to nutrition, the second to physical activity, and the third to stress reduction. The workbook has a wealth of information on these topics, as well as handouts that can be copied and distributed to participants at each weekly meeting. A committee of church members trained by Malrey-Horne and Osuagwu – and headed by a health coordinator from each church – oversees the program.

Osuagwu said, “We want them to understand what to eat and how much to eat, then to understand the role of physical activity in preventing obesity, and finally, how stress can affect obesity. Presenting the information in an orderly and organized manner helps people remember what they’ve learned. We also want the churches to commit to serving more fruits and vegetables at their church functions.”

As part of the nutritional education, a member of each committee will lead a grocery store tour, explaining to participants how to read food labels and buy healthy, nutritious food, she said. The committee member will use a script developed by a dietitian.

The final report on the impact of “Well-thy Living” will be submitted to the state health department this fall. The department plans to post the workbook on its “Eat Smart. Be Active” Web page, at http://www.eatsmartbeactivetx.org/, where it will be available to churches and community groups throughout the state.

“We hope to see a drop in the obesity rate at the churches who implement the program,” Ms. Osuagwu said. And she and Ms. Malrey-Horne hope that “Well-thy Living” has a lasting impact on the health of its participants.

“All we’re doing is training the health coordinators at the churches and helping them find resources. But we’re being hands off. We want them to take it and make it their own,” Ms. Malrey-Horne said.

NOTICE: Protected health information is subject to electronic disclosure.