The goal is simple, yet far-reaching – help Hattiesburg area residents become healthier one step at a time.
Thanks to collaboration between the City of Hattiesburg and the Department of Nutrition and Food Systems at The University of Southern Mississippi, the H.U.B. City Steps project was born. And while the ambitious initiative remains in the infancy stage, significant strides are being made toward the ultimate objective.
The project, funded by a $2 million National Institutes of Health grant, is designed to promote and engage Hattiesburg residents in physical activity and proper nutrition. Forming community partnerships and social networks, the program focuses on preventing hypertension by involving residents in regular walking activities.
“What excites me so much about this project is the community-campus collaboration,” said Dr. Kathy Yadrick, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Systems at Southern Miss. “Both the community and the university are bringing unique strengths and resources to bear on a significant issue – the health and well-being of our population.”
The H.U.B. Steps project serves as the ideal extension of the city’s “Get Healthy Hattiesburg” initiative which has been in place for several years under the direction of Mayor Johnny DuPree. Novice walkers all the way up to hard-core runners benefit from more than 20 walking tracks and trails scattered throughout the Hattiesburg area.
“I am extremely excited about the opportunity to partner with Southern Miss to positively impact the health and well-being of our citizens,” said DuPree. “I am confident that this process will improve the quality of life of our residents and be the catalyst for change for healthy living for residents across the state.”
For the past 15 months, Yadrick and colleagues at Southern Miss have worked with city officials and a community advisory board to help transition the project from the preparation phase to the walking intervention stage. The walking phase will consist of six months of coordinated activities including, enrollment, health assessments, education sessions, motivational interviewing sessions and walking events.
Vickie Reed, intervention coordinator with the Department of Nutrition and Food Systems at Southern Miss, said the plan is to have approximately 250 participants signed up for the Steps program by the end of January. The walking program will actually launch on Jan. 28 of next year with a reception at the Hattiesburg Cultural Center. On Feb. 13 H.U.B. City Steps will move into high gear with the official kickoff ceremony at Dahmer Park in downtown Hattiesburg.
One of the unique features of the program involves 26 area residents who will serve as “coaches” throughout the process. The walking coaches act as liaisons between the program participants and the research staff.
“We have been working with them since last August,” said Reed. “They have been trained in the areas of first aid/cpr, community leadership, motivating their team members through social support and how to deal with other logistics related to being a walking coach.”
Reed said there are a multitude of reasons for everyone involved to be excited about this new venture. Chief among these would be:
- -- It addresses health disparities and specifically addresses hypertension in African American communities.
- -- It will also capitalize on those folks who want to make lifestyle changes in the upcoming new year (i.e. New Year’s resolutions).
- -- It will provide participants with an opportunity to undergo regular health assessments and attend educational sessions.
“The educational sessions will provide the participants with information related to the basics of walking, reading food labels, cooking healthier through adapting recipes and being able to take part in cooking demonstrations,” said Reed.A recent study by Harvard University showed that walking at a moderate pace (3 mph) for up to three hours per week (or 30 minutes a day) can cut the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent. This is equal to the same benefit one might get from aerobics, jogging or other vigorous exercise.
The H.U.B. City Steps project is funded through 2013. Once the walking intervention portion has been completed, the project will move into a 12-month maintenance phase where the participants will be tracked to see how they are maintaining the life changes made during the intervention stage. During that period the Steps research staff will be analyzing data from both the intervention and maintenance phases.
With strong support from city leaders and community partners, Yadrick sees the H.U.B. City Steps project as a viable catalyst for lifestyle improvement in the Hattiesburg area.
“The goals and activities of H.U.B. City Steps – to get more people engaged in being physically active – mesh so well with the city’s master plan that includes bike paths and greenways,” she said. “Our community is fortunate to have many resources that support the health and well-being of its citizens.
“I think H.U.B. City Steps will help energize and mobilize more individuals and groups in our community to use the resources we have, such as the many walking tracks around the community, to adopt healthier lifestyles.”
As life-changing projects go, this one definitely has legs.
For more information about the program contact Reed at 601-266-5091 or Yadrick at 601-266-5377.
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.