News & Events

Pilot program offers (healthy) food for thought

September 27, 2013

Americans are busier than ever. With demands of work, family, jam-packed schedules and rising food costs, families are also eating worse than ever.

Getting people back into the kitchen to prepare nutritious, easy and healthy food was the impetus behind the launch of the Healthy Eating Advocate Training program (HEAT). Led by Thames Valley Council for Community Action (TVCCA) registered dietitian Jennifer Fetterley, this pilot program debuted at the Backus Outpatient Care Center on Sept. 23.

A collaborative between Backus and TVCCA, 11 participants from area agencies including, United Community & Family Services and TVCCA, attended Monday’s pilot initiative.

According to Ms. Fetterley, the size of the group was purposely capped to easily accommodate changes to a developing curriculum and gather detailed feedback from the “healthy eating advocates.”

“The goal of this initiative is to provide only the very basic tenets of nutrition that have gotten lost in our hectic world,” Ms. Fetterley said. “It is not intended to be used in place of the advice of a qualified health professional such as a doctor, nurse or dietitian, but is information that anyone can use to improve their lifestyle.

HEAT aims to instruct volunteers in the basic principles of healthy eating, from understanding the elementary mechanics of nutrition to meal planning and grocery shopping. Upon completing the seven-week program, the healthy eating advocates will be qualified to spread their knowledge throughout the community — equipped with accurate nutrition information and materials.

“This advocacy training provides a unique opportunity for empowering individuals in our community to become involved in their own care,” said Janette Edwards, MPH, MBA, Backus Community Benefits Manager. “In our 2010 health needs assessment, we discovered that there are 175,000 obese and overweight adults living in the greater Norwich area. HEAT is one more way we’re working to reduce this health epidemic.”

In future courses of HEAT, anyone from the community will be able to volunteer to become a healthy eating advocate. Professionals and clinicians in health and human services roles are especially encouraged to participant as they have regular contact with families and individuals who are at-risk for obesity.

Prior to the launch of the program, Ms. Fetterley worked to develop a comprehensive and easy-to-understand curriculum. Areas of focus for her curriculum came out of a brainstorming session including Ms. Fetterley, MaryLou Underwood, TVCCA Chief Operations Officer, Alice Facente, RN, MSN, Backus Community Health Education Nurse, Whitney Bundy, RD, MBA, Backus Associate Administrator of Clinical Support.

Core components of HEAT include teaching basic nutrition, scientific principles of nutrition, MyPlate — an initiative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that visually illustrates the five food groups for a healthy diet, reading food labels, meal planning, basic cooking skills, food safety, and physical activity.

“We’re striving to make our program as engaging and interactive as possible,” said Ms. Fetterley. “For one of the classes, we’ll meet at the grocery store to educate consumers about healthy food choices, and in another I’ll teach basic cooking skills.”

As a community health education professional and spectator in the audience, Ms. Facente said the audience’s reaction to HEAT was positive. She said some of the participants were actually surprised by the nutrition information they learned.

“A major reason we are investing such time in effort is for sustainability,” said Shawn Mawhiney, Director of Communications and Community Relations. “Many times that is the missing ingredient in community health outreach.”

Patti Passmore, care coordinator of the medical home initiative at UCFS, often sees children with special health care needs, including those who are obese or at-risk to become obese. In her role, she serves as a liaison to help ensure that children who receive Rx for Health prescriptions from their UCFS physician are able to redeem them for fresh fruits and vegetables at the Norwich Farmers’ market.

“I registered for this training program because I am interested in continuing and expanding my knowledge of nutrition,” said Ms. Passmore. “The more knowledgeable I am on this topic, the more I’ll be able to help families make good food choices.”

She added, “Parents really do want to make the best choices for their children, and this program is one way to help accomplish that goal.”

In her line of work, Ms. Passmore sees the HEAT program as an extension to Rx for Health. “Now when I help our health center patients make connections to the farmers’ market, I’ll also be able to give them useful and valuable nutritional information,” she said.