By Wendy Krueger, Executive Director, Be Well Fox Valley
What is the distance to your nearest neighborhood grocery store? What type of transportation did you take to get to work today? When you ate out last, did the restaurant offer any healthy sides?
These everyday choices and options available to you impact your health and well-being. They may seem insignificant at the time, but they add up fast. Did you know that food deserts (areas where healthy food options are limited because grocery stores are outside of convenient traveling distance) put residents living in those areas at greater risk for diabetes?
These are the questions Be Well Fox Valley – a new United Way Fox Cities initiative in Calumet, Outagamie, and Winnebago Counties – asks as it works to create the community conditions necessary to improve health and well-being. Be Well envisions a Fox Valley were all people have the opportunity to live longer, healthier, and happier. Reaching that vision requires cross-sector collaboration with community members, health systems, public health, businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions, philanthropy, and the faith community.
An innovative new program launched by Be Well Fox Valley this past summer provides a great example of the cross-sector collaboration needed to make an impact. The program, Eat Well for Life, supports community members living with food insecurity and uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes as they adopt healthier lifestyles.
During the 13-week program, participants and their households receive food, recipes, meal plans, and diabetes education to learn to eat healthy, move more, and achieve their health goals, such as managing diabetes with fewer complications.
The first cohort of the program is underway with 13 individuals participating. Be Well is partnering with the Medical College of Wisconsin to study, measure, and report on results and demonstrate success. So far, evidence of the program’s success is anecdotal, but extremely positive. Comments from current participants include: “I’m feeling better with less pain,” “I’m realizing how the foods I eat affect my blood sugar,” and “I’m grateful to be in this program; thank you for helping us get back on track.”
Similar programs exist in other areas of the country, but the collective effort of multiple health systems and community organizations is unique to the Fox Valley’s Eat Well for Life program. The work group that is helping to design, implement and manage the program includes: Ascension Wisconsin, Aurora Health Care, Children’s Wisconsin, Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, Menasha Public Health, Mosaic Family Health, Network Health, Oshkosh Area Community Pantry, Outagamie County Public Health, Partnership Community Health Center, St. Joseph Food Program, ThedaCare, UW-Madison Division of Extension, United Way Fox Cities, Winnebago County Public Health, and the YMCA of the Fox Cities.
Future plans include expanding Eat Well for Life to people living with pre-diabetes, working with local pantries to create diabetic-friendly environments, and partnering with local institutions, such as hospitals, schools and workplaces, to promote a transparent and equitable food system that prioritizes the health and well-being of people and the environment.
The Eat Well for Life program is funded by a grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership within the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation and the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs, the J.J. Keller Foundation and other community partners.