OSU Extension helps rural Oregonians LEAP to better health

Article photo
LEAP participants enjoy veggie-rich lasagna. Photo by Stephanie Polizzi

Heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and osteoarthritis are serious chronic diseases in the U.S.--and they are all affected by lifestyle choices. OSU Extension Family & Community Health faculty and volunteers created a 30-day program called LEAP (Lifestyle Eating Activity Progress) and introduced it to residents of Coos County, which ranks near the bottom of Oregon counties in measures of community health.

LEAP is a community-based lifestyle medicine program that draws on science-based nutrition principles. Staff and volunteers coach participants in how to buy, store, cook and eat healthful plant-based foods that have been shown to prevent or slow the progress of chronic disease. Over the 12 sessions, participants experienced nutrition education sessions, fitness demonstrations, stress reduction techniques and hands-on experiential learning.

After two pilot programs, LEAP was offered to 19 participants in Bandon. Participants underwent health screenings including BMI, blood pressure, blood lipids and blood sugars at the beginning and the end of the program

Every one of the 19 participants showed significant improvement in at least one health risk factor from pre- to post-screenings. Most participants improved in four or more areas. Those at highest risk experienced the most dramatic results: three people were able to decrease medication to control blood sugar, blood pressure or cholesterol.

These results motivated some participants to continue in a more healthful pattern of eating. Six enrolled in an online cooking class, and two have taken a 15-week cooking program from a local health coach. One participant even boasted about spraining his elbow playing basketball--a sport he never thought he’d enjoy again after the heart attack he suffered before taking part in LEAP.

Source: Stephanie Polizzi, Extension Family & Community Health, Coos County Extension

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