It's Never Too Late To Change
Project C.H.A.N.G.E. Instills Healthy Habits in Families Fighting Obesity
"Project C.H.A.N.G.E. is marvelous. It was a life changing experience for my son." -Cynthia Fisher
The obesity epidemic highlights two important points. First, behavior, not biology, poses the greatest threat to American health. Second, lasting behavior change is difficult to accomplish.
“Changing behavior associated with food is especially difficult,” said psychologist Jane Robinson, PhD. “Not only does food satisfy one of our most basic biological needs, it is also deeply ingrained in our culture. Families gather around the dinner table. Friends socialize over food. Couples court each other over candlelit dinners. We celebrate birthdays, holidays and almost every significant event with food.”
Dr. Robinson and her colleagues are tackling the twin challenges of obesity and behavioral change with Project C.H.A.N.G.E. (control health through activity, nutrition and group education), a clinical research project that seeks to instill healthy habits in families fighting obesity. Initial results are promising.
Project C.H.A.N.G.E. moves beyond a focus on simple diets to a multi-pronged strategy from cooking classes, to shopping trips, games and education, that teach whole families practical skills about not only eating healthy, but living healthy.
“Project C.H.A.N.G.E. is marvelous. It was a life-changing experience for my son,” said Cynthia Fisher, who attended the program in 2011 with her six-year-old son Dillon. After participating in the 14-week program, they are more active, eating better, and slimmer. “I have learned new skills for making healthier choices for myself and my son. Dillon even helps me stay on the healthy eating track!”
Cooking Matters, a Denver nutritional education program, provides hands-on cooking classes. Participants leave each week with free groceries to prepare the same meal they learned how to make in class and with kitchen tools to help with the home preparation. Cooking matters staff also lead field trips to grocery stories to teach food-label reading and healthy shopping.
“Dillon loved the cooking classes and the new recipes,” said Cynthia Fisher.
During the second half of the program, participants work with a National Jewish Health psychologist, physical and recreational therapists, and a dietitian to learn how emotions and stress can impact eating habits and strategies for managing them. They also establish and reinforce health lifestyle goals, and discover enjoyable ways to stay active and exercise.
“We introduced playing games including volleyball, basketball and soccer, instead of just walking, running or push-ups and sit-ups,” explained recreational therapist Bobby Sherman, CTRS, MA. “Some families found it awkward at first, but then they really enjoyed playing together and would return each week with stories of playing football or other sports together at home. When family members and their children began losing weight it encouraged them to keep moving.”
Cynthia Fisher recently reported that Dillon continues to lose weight; he has maintained his new healthy eating habits (except for an occasional request for ice cream!) and planted a garden with his dad to have more healthy food to eat.
The first Project C.H.A.N.G.E. was a success with all families reporting healthy changes in their shopping, cooking and eating habits.
“At first some families attended only because, ‘our doctor is making us’,” said program coordinator Sophia Cohen.
“By the end, many of those same families transformed into the most active participants and benefitted the most. It was inspiring to see the changes they made.”
The research team will incorporate lessons learned in the first session, like a need for more positive reinforcement, into the second session in early 2012.
“It is an iterative process,” said Dr. Robinson. “We are learning from our participant families the crucial elements of behavioral change that leads to better health.”
Changing Behavior, Saving Lives
In 2007, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine ran an article, entitled “We Can Do Better – Improving the Health of the American People,” which unequivocally pointed to the most important factor affecting American health. Unhealthy behavioral patterns account for 40 percent of premature deaths in the United States. Obesity, inactivity and smoking together account the vast majority, 800,000 premature deaths each year.
National Jewish Health has been a leader in healthy behavior change since the early 1990s when we launched one of the first disease management programs for asthma. Today, we help thousands of people across the nation improve their health through our tobacco-cessation quitlines and FitLogix® weight management program. National Jewish Health quitlines serve more than 60 million people in 11 states.
This past year we added Pennsylvania and Michigan. More than 600,000 people have completed the program and recorded an extraordinary 34 percent quit rate. Working through employers and health plans, Fitlogix has helped thousands of people lose weight and keep it off by increasing their activity and eating better.
“Over almost two decades, we have engaged in a constant iterative process of feedback from our customers and adjustment of our programs to discover the best methods to promote healthy behavior change.”