But thanks to free 12-week programs, Cassandra Bennett, 49, has lost 70 pounds and is no longer feeling the lethargy and depression she suffered after this traumatic experience.
“The teachers were encouraging and said, ‘You can do it,’ and it was always an atmosphere that was positive and uplifting,” Bennett said.
The Oklahoma City-County Health Department began offering Wellness Now programs in Bennett’s zip code — 73111 — after finding the death rate from cardiovascular disease is 10 times higher than the county’s healthiest ZIP codes. Since first introducing the courses in April 2010, recent results are showing the ZIP code is no longer the worst in Oklahoma County.
“We can’t say for sure if it’s our program that caused the change, but we think it has a lot to do with it,” said Jennifer Like, chronic disease prevention coordinator with the health department.
The 73111 area has high poverty and less access to health services than other areas in the city. It also is what Like calls a “food desert,” or an area with few grocery stores. But that’s changing. Northeast Regional Health and Wellness Campus on 63rd Street opened in the spring and offers the wellness programs along with walking trails, a food bank and other services.
“The community can only get better when they’re more informed and have the resources,” Bennett said.
But along with northeast Oklahoma City, residents across the area struggle with high cholesterol regardless of income, shows Oklahoma Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data. Studies from 2009 show 38 percent of those making $25,000 or less have high cholesterol. Oklahomans with $50,000-plus earnings only have a few percentage points less at 34 percent. The risk survey also finds central Oklahomans have the highest rates of heart disease and diabetes in the state.
With this countywide need, the health department provides wellness programs in multiple locations.
Losing a few pounds helps lower high cholesterol, blood pressure and risk for chronic diseases, finds the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s why the health department’s goal is for each participant in the 12-week programs to lose at least 5 percent of his or her body weight.
“Even after I lost 10 pounds, I felt better and I had more energy,” said Robert Wilson, 59, who has participated in multiple health programs around the city. “Instead of sitting in the recliner, I do things around the house and go for a walk.”
The program’s instructors also don’t expect participants to be perfect, finds Bennett.
“If you felt like you failed that week, they would call them ‘slip-ups,’ and you would get back on the program,” she said.
The course provides weekly information on subjects including diabetes, exercise and portion control. Participants fill out cards with what they ate and how much exercise was completed and then bring updates to the meetings.
At first, Wilson struggled with finding vegetables and fruits he liked, but he finally found a few that he now eats on a regular basis.
“In the mornings, I used to go to McDonald’s, and at lunch time, Taco Bell. And that stuff is horrible for you,” Wilson said. “Once I started eating what I was supposed to, I didn’t have heartburn or acid reflux.”
Both Wilson and Bennett agree the program isn’t about starvation but instead changing what is eaten. It also helps provide tips on different forms of exercise according to ability.
Bennett has to do low-impact exercises because of her injuries.
Monetary incentives keep participants motivated; Bennett said she won $5 gift cards and received a $25 one for being her course’s biggest loser. After completing two programs, her blood pressure and cholesterol dropped to normal levels.
“I felt like this was something I could do the rest of my life,” Bennett said.
Also, both her mother and sister are eating better thanks to her example.
Wilson has lost 80 pounds and has improved his health since he began in January 2012. So far, he is encouraged by the results to keep moving forward.
While the 73111 ZIP code has improved, the health department now finds the 73108 area takes the top place for worst health.
“We will soon begin the process of identifying and meeting with potential partners in that community to develop plans for a potential Southwest Regional campus,” said Jackie Shawnee, health department spokesperson, via email.
In September 2011, the U.S.
of Health and Human Services awarded the Oklahoma City- County Health
Department with a Community Transformation Grant to help promote
healthier lifestyles and reduce chronic diseases. The department is
receiving $3.5 million over a five-year period.
Free 12-week program offered to anyone 18 or older at multiple locations around Oklahoma City. Space is limited, and pre-enrollment is required. Call 425-4308 or email Total_Wellness@occhg.org.