Extension educators conducting ‘Eat Healthy, Be Active’ workshops throughout Alabama

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – An eight-member team of Alabama Cooperative Extension System educators is conducting “Eat Healthy, Be Active” workshops throughout the state to address the poor eating habits and physical inactivity that sets Alabama apart as a state with one of the nation’s highest obesity rates.

Onikia Brown, an Alabama Extension nutrition and health specialist and assistant professor in Auburn University’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science who is heading the statewide effort, said the goal is to conduct these workshops in all 67 counties by the end of 2013.

Brown said another goal of the program is to help people break the nutritionally destructive patterns of eating that have contributed to spiking obesity rates.

“That’s not to say that you should never have a donut, a cookie or a piece of cake,” she said. “Nutritionally destructive behavior occurs when you’re eating a donut with every meal or consuming an entire bag of chips at one sitting instead of consuming only a handful.”

Despite some progress in recent years, Alabamians are still plagued with one of the nation’s highest obesity rates. Obesity is closely linked with chronic, even life-threatening conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

“We’re improving,” said Helen Herndon-Jones, one of the regional Extension agents involved in the training. “We’re now fourth, though we used to be ranked second and, even at one point, first, in the nation in obesity rates.

Much remains to be done, she said, citing a recent survey showing that Dallas and Greene counties are among the five counties in the nation with the highest obesity rates.

Herndon-Jones and other Extension educators stress that there is no quick fix for obesity, only a series of incremental steps to healthier eating and more active lifestyle habits that must be reinforced over time through changed behavior. As they see it, this emphasis on incremental steps is one of the program’s greatest strengths.

“I really think this program brings some fresh ideas to the table,” said Valerie Conner, a regional Extension nutrition and health agent conducting the programs throughout parts of central and south Alabama. “We offer practical suggestions about cutting down on all the things that contribute to obesity, such as fats, sugar and sodium. Instead of just talking, we actually demonstrate things. For example, considering that a 12-ounce can of cola contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, we show how drinking a can of cola a day amounts to consuming 30 pounds of sugar in a year’s time.”

Developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Eat Healthy, Be Active” is offered as a series of six one-hour workshops that are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in 2010, and the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

“We try to take them through the small steps – things they can do, not just for a few weeks or a few months, but for the rest of their lives,” Herndon-Jones said.

The workshops focus on six topics that help participants identify and correct potentially destructive behaviors. Each session is designed around a lesson plan, learning objectives, talking points, hands-on activities, videos and handouts.

The first session identifies foods that are not only healthy but tasty. The second session focuses on how to prepare and choose quick meals and snacks that are also healthy, while the third deals with how to eat healthy on a budget. The fourth session offers tips for losing weight and keeping it off, while the fifth session acquaints participants with ways to adopt healthy eating as an integral part of one’s lifestyle. The final session explores the value of physical activity as integral to healthy living.

For more information about Eat Healthy, Stay Active training in your area, contact your county Extension office.

(Contributed by Jim Langcuster.)

Contact: Jim Langcuster, (334) 844-5686 (langcjc@auburn.edu), or Charles Martin, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9986 (marticd@auburn.edu)