Friday, August 17, 2012

Take a Small Step Toward a Big Difference

I’ve talked many times about the obesity crisis in our country and its effects. It seems like such a daunting task to improve the overall health of our nation. Pounds unfortunately only come off one at a time. We’ve looked for the magic solution that will fix it overnight, but what we always come to realize is that it’s the decisions we make every day. There’s no miracle, fast-track cure – it’s the small, but steady, steps that eventually lead to better health.

We all know that a carrot is better for us than a candy bar and broccoli is a better choice over fries, but what happens when your local store’s shelves are more processed than produce? With a lack of access to healthy foods, many communities are denied the chance to make smart choices about healthy eating. Not surprisingly, these underserved communities have high rates of obesity. The Centers for Disease Control classifies more than one-third of U.S. adults as obese, and socioeconomic and racial disparities are often identified as common factors for obesity. By giving residents in targeted communities the means to learn and practice healthy eating, UnitedHealthcare’s Small Steps Program hopes to reduce the prevalence of diet-related illnesses.

More than 1,600 Philadelphians are expected to take some small steps to improve their health over the next 8 weeks. UnitedHealthcare’s national “Small Steps” program, now in its second year, encourages residents in underserved communities to make positive lifestyle changes and reduce their risk of obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes.

In partnership with Greater Philadelphia Health Action, Inc. (GPHA), a non-profit community-based health organization serving some 85,000 patients, UnitedHealthcare will help patients who utilize GPHA facilities take small steps to improve their health such as meeting with a nutritionist and redeeming “Philly Food Bucks” at local farmers’ markets.

During the 2011 8-week program, more than 1,600 people took advantage of the Small Steps program. The 2012 program, which began on August 1st, gives program participants who see a nutritionist at a GPHA facility up to $8.00 in Philly Food Bucks to buy fruits and vegetables at nearby Food Trust Farmers’ Markets. Participants also receive recipe cards featuring simple and tasty dishes using fresh fruits and vegetables.

What I find most exciting about this program is that it goes into the communities to try and prevent rather than treat diet-related illnesses. We aren’t asking them to toss out all of their favorite foods. Our goal is simply to make healthy food available and affordable; two small steps that can make a big difference.
UnitedHealthcare's Dr. Health E. Hound takes a tour of the federally qualified health center in Pennsylvania

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