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Unique SSU anti-obesity program seeks participants

A ONE-YEAR research, educational, and community outreach program is coming to Savannah State University.

In partnership with the St. Joseph’s/Candler African-American Health Information and Resource Center, SSU will administer the Community Obesity Outreach Program, or COOP.

“It’s an obesity prevention and wellness program that is designed to promote health in minorities with low to moderate incomes,” explains Dr. Hetty Jones, a professor of biology in Savannah State University’s Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Participants are being sought for the program, which is open to children 8 and older, as well as adults. “We’re looking for minorities who are interested in helping us work with them in terms of exercise, nutritional counseling and behavior modification,” Jones says.

“We don’t want to put emphasis on their weight because that discourages some people,” she says. “This is about the health risk factors of obesity.”

The $49,994 grant that is funding the program comes from the National Institutes of Health through the University of Kentucky’s Center for Poverty Research. Jones and Mary Jo Fayoyin, director of SSU’s University Library, spent countless hours applying for it.

Jones is the principal investigator on the project, and Fayoyin is the co-PI. “We’re the ones who wrote the grant,” Fayoyin says. “We’ll make sure the grant is implemented with the goals accepted by the funding agency.”

Because the program is targeted for minorities with low to moderate incomes, all expenses will be covered by the grant. “It’s not going to cost them anything,” Fayoyin says. “The targeted populations may have difficulty paying to go to a gym, or paying for nutritional counseling. All this will be provided free to them.”

A total of 200 people are needed for the program. “We’ll have 100 in the study group and 100 in the control group,” Jones says. “We’ll provide educational information for the control group and actual hands-on types of things for the study group.”

Eligibility requirements are: low-to moderate income; must be a minority; must be overweight or obese; and must be at least 8 years of age. In all, 50 youth, 50 adult males and 100 adult females are needed, and the first 200 people to meet the eligibility criteria will be included.

All activities will be scheduled on the SSU campus, at the St. Joseph’s/Candler African-American Health Information and Resource Center, 1910 Abercorn St., and at other community centers in the West Savannah area. Persons who would like to apply should call Jones at 691-6202 or the St. Joseph’s/Candler African-American Health Information and Resource Center at 447-6605.

Obesity is a risk factor in as many as 40 diseases. “The three big ones are cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and cancer,” Jones says. “Obesity causes sleep apnea, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease and fatty liver disease. The liver helps detoxify the body, so that is a big issue.”

Osteo-arthritis is another complication of obesity. “Most people look at this in terms of weight and how they look, but we’re concerned about their health,” Jones says. “When you put that much pressure on the skeletal structure over time, it has a big effect on the body.”

The occurrence of obesity in Savannah is extremely high. “More than 60 percent of people in Savannah are obese,” Jones says. “In the minority population, it’s even higher. Over one-third are overweight and one-third are obese, so about two-thirds need to deal with their weight.”

There’s a reason the numbers are so high. “In this part of the country, our diet makes the difference,” Jones says

So far, more women than men or children have applied. “We women get more pressure about our weight,” Jones says. “I think the standards have been set over time. We tend to think we’re not as beautiful if we’re not as shapely.”

The rate of obesity in children is alarming. “One of the great concerns is the increase in the incidence of Type 2 diabetes in children,” Jones says.

“Obesity in children is due to a decrease in activity,” she says. “Children aren’t allowed to go outside and play. They’re in front of their computers, or playing video games. I’m hoping to get a Wii game as part of the program to get children to exercise and see the importance of it.” cs

Community Obesity Outreach Program

Info: St. Joseph's/Candler African-American Health Information and Resource Center at 447-6605

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Linda Sickler

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Connect Today 12.17.2014

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