Humana Inc. , a leading health and well-being company, and Microclinic International today announced the positive impact “Team Up 4 Health” is making in Bell County.
The two-year pilot program – the first of its kind in the United States – is curbing preventable chronic diseases by helping people eat better, get more exercise and encourage one another to make healthier choices.
At the end of the program’s first year, 97 percent of the Bell County residents who completed the program have realized at least one health improvement in the following areas: reduced body mass index, sustained weight loss, decreased symptoms of diabetes and reduced blood pressure.
“I’ve learned that it’s about making small healthy choices every day,” said Willene Black, one of 265 Bell County Team Up 4 Health participants. “I’m doing this program to spend more years with my grandchildren. What’s more, I’ve been able to take this to my family and friends, and when they see changes, they become more motivated as well.”
Team Up 4 Health – launched in Bell County in July 2011 – was developed through the microclinic program created and directed by Microclinic International. The unique health and wellness approach relies on larger community activities and microclinics. A microclinic is a group of two to six people who share access to education, technology and social support as they work together to achieve lifestyle behavior changes that prevent and manage chronic conditions. For example, participants get fitness and nutrition counseling in their microclinics, participate in healthy cooking demonstrations, and visit grocery stores with nutritionists.
Team Up 4 Health partners with the Bell County Health Department to manage the day-to-day program.
Like many areas throughout the U.S., Kentucky has seen an increase in the number of people affected by preventable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and stroke. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Kentucky’s rate of obesity has climbed to 31 percent, five percent above the U.S. average.
“It’s well documented by the CDC that 70 percent of all health care expenses go toward treating preventable diseases in this country,” said Mike McCallister, Humana’s Chairman and CEO. “As a company committed to helping people achieve lifelong well-being, we understand the value of trying a new approach to preventing disease, not just treating it. We chose Bell County because we identified it as a high-need area, the community was open to the idea of change, and we wanted to help people here in Humana’s home state of Kentucky.”
Dr. Eric Ding, director of Epidemiology at Microclinic International and a faculty member at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the results show progress.
“I have witnessed first-hand the changes taking place in Bell County,” Ding said. “The results are showing that Team Up 4 Health is improving people’s health and catalyzing health improvements in their social networks, as suggested by the randomized controlled trial that MCI is implementing in Bell County.”
Team Up 4 Health participants are making lifestyle changes and seeing the impact. Participants are losing weight. Program participants lost six and a half pounds on average, compared with almost two pounds for control group members.
By the end of the program’s first year, 82 percent of program participants had reduced their intake of full-fat dairy, and more than half reported consuming more nuts and legumes.
Program participants are not only eating better, but they are moving more. The report from completion of the first year of the program shows participants were five times more likely to increase swimming activities and six times more likely to increase aerobic activity as compared to control group members. Program participants were also 18 percent more likely to increase the frequency of their vigorous activities.
The results are paying off not just in physical health, but in total well-being for participants. Overall, 84 percent of program participants improved their confidence in some manner.
In addition to individuals influencing one another to make small, healthy changes like reading nutrition labels, buying whole wheat versus white flour products and exercising regularly, the program works with the Bell County Health Department to create a positive circle of influence and collaboration within the broader community.
“I’ve been a lifetime Bell County resident and in my role with the Team Up 4 Health program, I’ve seen hundreds of lives change in positive ways. One of our local restaurants changed its menu to offer healthier choices with fresh local ingredients,” said Leigh Ann Baker, program manager at the Bell County Health Department. “In Bell County, we recognize the need to change and are excited to make healthier choices. Ninety-eight percent of phase one graduates said they would recommend the program, and we’ve seen them take home what they have learned to their family and friends, continuing to spread the message of small healthy behavior steps.”
Since the program’s inception, Bell County has begun its transformation to being a healthier place. It’s now home to two “fitness parks,” where community members can be seen regularly exercising together; this summer Bell County created its first community organic garden; and the community now features a new pavilion where families can gather for celebrations.
“This is the first time we’ve brought the microclinic model to the U.S., and we’re thrilled to see its success,” said Leila Makarechi, COO and EVP of Program Management, Microclinic International. “With Team Up 4 Health, participants are able to make tangible improvements to their health and the health of their friends and family, and we are also seeing rippling effects throughout the entire community. Healthy behaviors are becoming contagious as participants make small but powerful changes that improve their quality of life.”
Twice as many participants have signed up for the second year of Team Up 4 Health in Bell County. The second year of the program started in September and will continue through June 2013. Team Up 4 Health is currently participating in a gold-standard randomized controlled trial that will be completed at the end of the two-year pilot with comprehensive results.
The Team Up 4 Health pilot focuses not just on impacting participants, but also making a difference throughout the community. Other founding partners of the Team Up 4 Health pilot program included Citizen Effect, a nonprofit dedicated to leveraging citizen-based approaches to sustaining community projects.