Published on January 31, 2019

New Prescription for Health Program Teaches Healthy Eating Habits

Thanks to a strong community collaboration, a new health education program is helping low-income patients with chronic illnesses learn healthy habits. Prescription for Health, a six-week course, is teaching healthy eating behaviors and how to plan a nutritious diet.

“The need for better nutrition education has been highlighted by recent health statistics from the region,” said Shanna Hensler, community health specialist, MidMichigan Health. “The Community Health Assessment completed by Live Well Gratiot in 2015 found that 69.6 percent of adults in Gratiot County are either obese or overweight. The same study found that 85.9 percent of adults in the county do not eat enough fruits and vegetables each day to support their overall health. Unhealthy weight can be especially problematic for people living in low-income situations or suffering from chronic diseases.”

To address this concern, last year, MidMichigan Health established a partnership between MidMichigan Medical Center – Gratiot, Alma Family Practice, Alma Transportation, Gratiot/Isabella RESD, the Mid-Michigan District Health Department, MSU Extension and the St. Louis Farmer’s Market to develop a local nutritional program. This endeavor was funded by the Gratiot County Community Foundation. Their first trial of the new program, named Prescription for Health, ran from June through October 2018.

Prescription for Health consists of six weekly nutrition education classes. Participants interact with the instructor and their classmates as they learn how to choose nutritious foods, plan a healthy diet and prepare healthy meals. During each class, the instructor shares evidence-based nutritional advice and brings an example recipe that participants sample. Each participant also receives coupons for the St. Louis Farmer’s Market so they can put their new food-selection knowledge into practice.

Marshall Lombard of Alma learned about Prescription for Health from his family doctor who helped him sign him up for the pilot program. As a former certified food safety technician, Lombard felt that the course was a bit like a refresher for him but says that it would certainly be very helpful for somebody without any previous knowledge of food and nutrition. For him, the benefit came from learning more about how to put this knowledge of nutrition to use in his daily life. “We started learning about how to take care of ourselves, and how to choose better and eat better, more nutritious food,” Lombard said.

Ithaca resident Rebecca Fawcett was also signed up for Prescription for Health by her family doctor. She had just received a high test result for her hemoglobin A1c level - an indicator of high long-term blood sugar. While in the program, she learned several techniques for managing her blood sugar through her diet and lifestyle. An avid baker, through the program, Fawcett learned how to bake with Splenda and reduce the amount of sugar she puts into recipes. She also discovered healthier alternatives, such as fat-free, sugar-free whipped cream. In addition, the program incorporated ways she could improve her metabolism with regular exercise, such as 20-minute walks three to four times per week.

Both Lombard and Fawcett feel that the greatest asset of the course was their instructor, Bonnie.

“Bonnie has a wonderful way of helping you out. She is so informative,” said Fawcett. Lombard agreed, saying, “She was really helpful, really nice and polite and professional.” Both also say they are looking forward to participating in the program again this coming year and have been recommending the program to others.

After participants complete the program, they fill out a health assessment to see how they have improved since the beginning of the program. Lombard reports not feeling as hungry, and selecting better foods when he shops at the supermarket. Likewise, Fawcett says that she and her husband now make conscientious decisions both when eating out at restaurants and when cooking at home. Fawcett is glad to say that her A1c level has improved as a result.

Those interested in learning more about the Prescription for Health program may call Hensler at (989) 466-3661.