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Local health department weight-loss program continues after 10 years of success

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Dietitian Jennifer Like helps people set realistic goals and maintain healthy diets through the Oklahoma City-County Health Department’s Total Wellness program. | Photo provided
  • Copyright Lifetouch Inc. 2014
  • Dietitian Jennifer Like helps people set realistic goals and maintain healthy diets through the Oklahoma City-County Health Department’s Total Wellness program. | Photo provided

The hardest part about committing to healthy living is getting started.

For the past decade, dietitians with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department (OCCHD) have helped countless locals begin a lifestyle change that resulted in reductions in cholesterol levels, blood sugar, blood pressure and weight loss. Over eight weeks, Total Wellness class participants learn the Pick Your Plate method, commit to 150 minutes of physical activity each week and develop the right state of mind to change unhealthy behavior.

As an interactive weight loss program, Total Wellness also works with adults in the prevention of diabetes and heart disease, said Jennifer Like, a dietitian with OCCHD’s Total Wellness program. Classes began this month at nine locations across Oklahoma County.

“One of the great things about our program is that it is realistic,” Like told Oklahoma Gazette. “It is not complex. There is no counting. There is no weighing. It is a very visual method of how to know if you are on the right track. We give the support that you need.”

On the first day of class, participants don’t talk about how many pounds they want to lose. Instead, everyone holds the same goal of losing 5 percent of their body weight and becoming more active.

“Five percent weight loss in eight weeks is a realistic goal,” Like said. “Some people come in with a goal that they want to lose 50 pounds. That’s not very realistic in that short time period. What we are looking for is one to two pounds of weight loss each week. For most people, 5 percent is going to be 10 to 15 pounds. Losing that 5 percent of your body weight puts you on that right path towards lowering your risk of both diabetes and heart disease.”

In the early weeks, participants learn how to eat while achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Through the Oklahoma Pick Your Plate Method, participants learn how to mix and match vegetables, grains, fruits, proteins and dairy to create well-balanced meals. As the class progresses, participants talk about their behavior changes and barriers to continuing their new lifestyle.

“We work with individuals to problem solve their barriers,” Like said. “Often, what we find is that nutrition and physical activity are not the biggest hurdles. It is getting enough sleep, reducing stress or taking medication on a regular basis.”

 Diabetes prevention

In 2007, the health department developed the Total Wellness class after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched its National Diabetes Prevention Program, a high-impact prevention approach to reduce new diabetes cases. The original classes targeted the county’s Hispanic residents with curriculum primarily focused on diabetes prevention. In 2009, OCCHD leaders revamped the program to focus on both the prevention of diabetes and reduction of heart disease. Classes were offered for eight weeks in locations across the county.

Oklahomans have long struggled with obesity. When someone is overweight or obese, they face increased chances of developing type 2 diabetes. According to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America released in August, Oklahoma holds the ninth highest adult obesity rate in the nation. The share of the state’s adults who suffer from diabetes in 2016 was 12 percent, while 36.2 percent of adults suffered from hypertension (high blood pressure), which is another obesity-related health issue.

Like said Total Wellness produces many success stories. Some of the greatest feedback has come from participants who were advised by their physicians that they no longer needed certain prescription medication. Others have praised the program for kicking unhealthy habits.

Overall, the program records about a 3 to 5 percent reduction in total cholesterol levels, blood sugar and blood pressure among class participants after eight weeks, Like said.

“The hardest part is getting started,” she said. “This is a great way to get started in a very supportive environment where everyone is on the same page.”

Print headline: Wellness visible; After 10 years, OCCHD continues to offer its Total Wellness program to help locals with weight loss and healthy living.

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