Maryland Anti-Obesity Group Finds Unexpected Success

At Ella Health, we understand that the decision and effort to live a healthier lifestyle can only be made by an individual. But there are things that a community can do to raise awareness about wellness and motivate those individuals. We are proud to support the efforts of community groups like HEAL of Washington County in Maryland that are making a difference. – Melissa Dyrdahl, Ella Health CEO

HEAL Color SplashWhen the runners take off for this weekend’s Color Splash 5K in Hagerstown, the pack will include several people who not long ago hardly gave any thought to exercising and had troubles just walking short distances.

That has changed through the efforts of the pioneering group that is sponsoring the event. HEAL of Washington County was launched in 2012 through the efforts of Mitesh Kothari, M.D. He was frustrated by statistics showing that Washington County was among the most obese in the country. And, he found that it was difficult to convince even his own patients about the need for lifestyle changes.

“We needed to have a broader, community-based approach,” he said. “Obesity is associated with a lot of negative things like breast cancer, a lack of education and poverty. If we really want to make a difference, we need to address it.”

The group brings together agencies and organizations from across the county to work on several initiatives aimed at reducing obesity and promoting healthy lifestyles. The group has both followed the models of others and become a model in how to create community-wide programs. The goal is to work with other groups to support their efforts and to fill in the gaps, said executive director Jenny Fleming.

The programs have grown larger and more quickly than anticipated.

This year, HEAL created a program for schools that offered incentives for promoting healthier habits such as replacing soda machines with vending machines offering zero calorie drinks and providing healthier lunches. Those that meet the requirements get a “Healthy Schools” designation. Organizers thought they might get a few schools interested, but instead every eligible school has signed up.

HEAL is expanding its efforts to include local restaurants, and will be encouraging them to make changes such as offering healthier options, buying local produce and reducing processed foods.

“In today’s busy life, people are going to be eating out, so restaurants are an important part of the overall picture of promoting healthy living,” Jenny explained. “It also provides parents with an opportunity to talk with children about nutrition and teach them about making healthier choices.”

While HEAL creates community-wide initiatives, it’s also working on a personal scale with programs to get individuals out and moving such as the 10,000 steps: Lifestyle Activity Program. Held throughout the year, the free program provides weekly walks, education, tracking and prizes.

“It’s been exciting to see what a difference this can make for people. They gain confidence as they realize what they’re capable of,” Dr. Kothari said.

The Color Splash is an indication of how well the group has been received. For the inaugural run two years ago, they expected about 500 runners. They got more than 1,300. They’re expecting even more this weekend. The event starts at 9 a.m. at Fairgrounds Park in Hagerstown, MD.

Ella Health is a sponsor of the HEAL’S Color Splash 5K. Register now and get ready to get splashed. 



One comment

  1. Yep, it all begins from the inside out! That’s what I enjoyed most about being a nutritional counselor. Thanks for this post,

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