Faith-based health program expands, adds Latino classes

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A nationally-recognized, faith-based physical activity and health promotion program that helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage chronic diseases is re-launching and extending its services to the African American and Latino communities in Monroe County.

The Healthy Living Program is directed by the University of Rochester Medical Center's (URMC) Center for Community Healthin partnership with the Greater Rochester YMCA, and represents a unique grassroots approach to prevention. The program – which was developed with broad input from physicians, health systems, health insurance companies, the county government, and non-profit and community-based organizations – builds upon existing support networks within the African-American and Latino faith community to identify and recruit participants, host sessions, and create an supportive environment that encourages individuals to make meaningful and lasting changes in their health.

“Racial and ethnic disparities in health indicators and growing rates of obesity and diabetes in adults represent some of the greatest public health challenges we face as a community,” said Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., M.S. , director of the Center for Community Health . “This innovative approach to prevention that has been embraced by Rochester 's faith community gives people the tools to set goals and make changes in their lives that will lead to better health.”

The twelve week courses will be held in churches and community centers and offered three times per year. The Greater Rochester YMCA will hire, train, and supervise the certified group fitness instructors. The coursework will focus on encouraging participants to set individual health goals and develop personal action plans to reach those goals, all within an environment that is both familiar and supportive. For example, in one session, participants will be given pedometers and walking logs and encouraged to gradually increase – and track – the number of steps they take each day. In another session, participants will learn how to read nutrition labels to better manage their intake of fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, and sodium.

More than 1,300 individuals at more than 40 African American churches took part in the program between 2001 and 2006 and participants showed marked progress in meeting the fitness and dietary goals they set for themselves. In 2005, the program was recognizedby the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with its annual Innovation in Prevention Award.

While continuing its affiliation with African American churches, the program will also launch a new pilot project that targets the region's Latino population. “Vida en Salud” is a partnership between URMC, the YMCA, and churches and community organizations serving the Latino community.

Current course locations include the SouthWest Area Neighborhood Association, Grace United Methodist Church , Grace Unity Church , and the Salvation Army on North Clinton Ave.

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