More Articles in This Series
ASA's Healthcare and Aging Network is discussing chronic diseases and their management. These recent articles cover a variety of care management and health improvement ideas and practical programs.
Why Measure Patient Engagement?
What It Means to Self-Manage a Disease
With fifteen years experience in health and hospital administration and work with community-based health programs, and in my current position as program coordinator with the Health Legacy Project at Rush University Medical Center, I understand the gap in preventive health services use in the African-American community.
African Americans have the highest mortality rates and worst health outcomes compared to other races. Chronic conditions that could be managed with medication and healthy lifestyle choices become life-threatening conditions when untreated, illustrating why community health education and access to preventive screenings are so vital for underserved populations.
Health disparities are nothing new and have been years in the making. Racism and institutional practices that historically excluded blacks and other minority groups from better jobs and higher wages result in poorer communities, lack of health insurance and access barriers to health education and preventive health services that save lives.
In order to begin to understand health disparities, you have to start by understanding the social determinants of health.
The Health Legacy Project (HLP) is a six-week, community-based health program designed to encourage African-American women to embrace healthier lifestyles. Currently, 80 percent of African-American women and their families are reported as overweight or obese, but over the long term, behavior changes can reduce obesity and Type 2 diabetes among this population. The free, six-week program includes weekly health education, nutrition counseling, exercise and support group sessions for women.
In partnership with faith-based organizations and local community centers, the HLP staff meets with the women twice a week to educate, motivate and support participants on their journey to better health. They devote the first hour to health education, using the evidence-based Stanford model of diabetes self-management where participants learn about portion control, healthy eating and how to read nutrition labels. The second hour focuses on fun exercise, nutrition and meal planning, support group discussions and bonding between the women.
The support group component is essential, because the habits of being sedentary and eating fast food or junk food become ingrained and normalized during youth. And breaking unhealthy behavior patterns is difficult because they were modeled for us for years.
In most instances, the woman is the “health regulator” of her family. She typically makes the doctor’s appointments, does the grocery shopping and primarily establishes family health habits. By reaching out to women, you can help entire families become healthier.
Another unique component of HLP is that upon completion, the women create and sign a health promise. Recognizing the prevalence of generational obesity among African-American women, the women acknowledge their role as health regulator and pledge to model healthy eating and lifestyle behaviors for their families. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is witnessing the women create the health pledge and sign their personal health legacy promise.
After six weeks, participants experience moderate weight loss and report feeling better and more empowered about their health. I’m optimistic about the program and look forward to its expansion into more and more Chicago area churches.
I have had an overwhelmingly positive response from church pastors about the Health Legacy Program. Obesity and diabetes are on their agenda too, and that support is refreshing. We want to help families now and generations to come.
Type 2 diabetes affects 25 percent of African-American women, but we can do something about this. We have to educate the populace and face this epidemic head-on with programs that address all aspects of behavior change. Adopting new health habits is the only path to success.
Robin McConney, MHA, is a program coordinator at Rush University Medical Center and a 2012 ASA New Ventures in Leadership Partner and scholarship recipient.
This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of ASA’s Healthcare & Aging Network (HAN)
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