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Working To Make a Healthier Virginia

Local branch of Va. Tech works on Governor’s On the Move initiative.

Take 2000 more steps (about 1 mile) and eat 100 fewer calories (about a pat of butter). That’s all it takes to become healthier. This is the message being propagated by America On the Move, a national initiative “dedicated to helping communities across the nation to make positive changes to improve the health and quality of life of all their citizens.” Their message is simple: move more and eat less by making two small daily changes. Just making small increases in physical activity and small decreases in the total amount of calories you eat each day can make a big difference.

It’s easy to get in those extra steps. Walk up the stairs instead of riding the elevator; get off the bus earlier and walk farther to work; walk during lunch break; and pace while on the phone.

The plan for eating less is just as simple as the plan for moving more. There are many ways to cut 100 calories from one's daily eating pattern — every day. Try topping pancakes with fresh fruit instead of syrup; use low-fat mayonnaise or mustard instead of regular mayonnaise; select an appetizer as a main entrée; or ask for grilled fish instead of fried.

An initiative announced last year by Gov. Mark Warner has embraced this national model and launched the state affiliate, “Virginia on the Move.” It is being implemented locally by Virginia Tech’s Center for Food and Nutrition Policy (CFNP), located in Alexandria.

“We asked to be involved. It made a lot of sense to adopt the initiative,” said Maureen Storey, Ph.D., director and research associate professor. The center is dedicated to advancing rational, science-based and nutrition policy; they are chartered with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). Storey said that they provide research that is directly relevant to obesity and policy issues and are the only food and nutrition policy center in the Washington, D.C. area.

WARNER LAUNCHED the Healthy Virginians initiative as an effort to promote health and wellness and reduce health care costs by combating obesity, hypertension, and other preventable diseases among state employees, public school students, Medicaid recipients, and the public.

The governor announced the program last year at the State Capitol in Richmond, and then led a one-mile lunchtime walk for state employees to a health fair at the Farmers’ Market in Richmond’s historic Shockoe Bottom.

Warner cited studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Kaiser Family Foundation that indicate as many as 35 percent of all Virginians are overweight and another 23.7 percent are obese, 23 percent do not exercise on a regular basis, and an estimated 25 percent of Virginians smoke or use other tobacco products.

“This initiative does not require expensive exercise equipment or extreme dieting,” Warner said. “By walking an additional 2,000 steps each day - the equivalent of a 15-minute walk, or about one mile — and consuming 100 fewer calories every day — which is equal to about one can of soda — Virginians can lower their blood pressure, lose weight, and feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally.”

FOR THE PAST YEAR, CFNP has been working with groups all over the state. Unfortunately, their initial funding has not been extended, and Storey said, “We want to keep the initiative going, but we have to rely on local communities to express interest.”

Her office can serve as a resource center if groups are interested in getting a program started. She encourages employers to take a look at their buildings to see how they can be more conducive to walking. Storey suggests making the stairs accessible (unlocked) and more attractive; maybe putting a sign on the elevator, “Stairs This Way.”

“We just want to try to get people moving and eating properly,” Storey said.

It’s not clear at this time what kind of evaluation and follow-up will be done. Storey is hopeful that the program will be evaluated to determine: how many people are aware of the program; what they know about the program; what they have done because of the program; and how it changed their behavior.

She believes that reducing physical education in the schools is a mistake and would like to see some of those classes reinstated. At an assembly last week with Hybla Valley Elementary School students, Warner mentioned his Healthy Virginia program, saying that it focuses on nutritional lunch programs and regular physical education classes.

“Making sure that children are healthy is just as important as learning to read, write and do math. America has a lot of kids who are not growing up healthy,” Warner said.