Category Archives: Food & Health

Virginia Cooperative Extension forms key partnerships to tackle the state’s opioid epidemic

Imagine awakening to the news that a jetliner has crashed, killing all 115 men, women, and children aboard.

As shocking as the magnitude of such loss would be, this is equivalent to the number of Americans who die from opioid overdose every day.

As if the deaths of approximately 42,000 people each year weren’t sobering enough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion annually, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

“The rates of death as a result of opioid overdose are climbing, and they are over 50 percent greater in rural Southwest Virginia than for the state,” said Kathy Hosig, director for the Virginia Tech Center for Public Health Practice and Research and a specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension, the outreach program for the state’s two land-grant universities: Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. “There is a clear role for Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension to provide safety education and training at the community level to help stop the cycle of abuse.”

In June, Virginia Cooperative Extension was awarded a $1.28 million grant for collaborative opioid work through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The grant was one of only six conferred nationally for addressing community needs.

“By having Virginia Tech and Virginia State University partner on the project, we were able to double the funding,” said Crystal Tyler-Mackey, an Extension specialist in community viability, and co-project director, along with VSU’s Maurice Smith, a 4-H Extension specialist with the university.

Awarded by the USDA-NIFA Children, Youth, and Families At-Risk program, the five-year grant will support health education initiatives spearheaded by Extension aimed at preventing opioid abuse among vulnerable communities in Virginia. This work is a continuation of a $321,638 NIFA Rural Health and Safety Education grant awarded last fall to Virginia Cooperative Extension. Together, the efforts are reaching six counties: Grayson, Henry/Martinsville, Prince George, Orange, Sussex, and Henrico.

Maurice Smith, Crystal Tyler-Mackey, Bonita Williams, and Kathy Hosig

From left: Maurice Smith, Crystal Tyler-Mackey, Bonita Williams, and Kathy Hosig. Williams serves as national program leader with the NIFA division of youth and 4-H.

“Southwest Virginia is especially vulnerable. We have communities that are suffering. They are struggling to find homes for children whose parents are impacted,” said Tyler-Mackey. “And across Virginia, social service agencies and schools are overwhelmed. Employers are having trouble hiring people who can pass drug tests. We felt compelled to find a way as community-level educators to do something to address the issue.”

The grants will enable Extension to deliver educational programming to prevent the abuse and misuse of opioids and other illicit substances to those most at risk and to host meetings and events that bring together people and organizations concerned about opioid misuse for collaborative discussion, learning, and planning.

The NIFA funding will be targeted to two distinct audiences: adult hospital patients and their families in clinical settings, and middle-school adolescents through evidence-based educational programs.

The goal in targeting hospital patients is to make them aware of the dangers associated with use of opioid pain medications and to provide access to support should they or a family member experience problems related to opioid use. This intervention will take the form of one-on-one conversations with patients and their loved ones through the High Risk Patient Education Program.

“There are different risks with opioids than with over-the-counter medications because opioids are so highly addictive,” said Tyler-Mackey. “Patients do not always know that what they are taking for pain management is an opioid. So, many don’t know the risk associated with its use. The education of medical patients will be on proper use of the medications and red flags to look for, such as taking medication sooner, or more often than prescribed.”

Curriculum for this program is being developed by the Virginia Rural Health Association for delivery to patients as they are waiting to see health care providers in their offices and will also be available on the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Rural Health Association websites.

The second goal for the NIFA grants is to provide prevention education for adolescents at a vulnerable stage in their development – middle school – in order to provide children and their families with the skills and support required to make healthy decisions about drugs. This will take shape through a program called PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER), an evidence-based model developed by Iowa State and Pennsylvania State universities to prevent alcohol and drug abuse in youth.

Through this model, which connects university-based prevention researchers with Virginia Cooperative Extension and the public school system, community teams are convened to oversee the implementation of family and school-based interventions. The family-based intervention program is called Strengthening Families 10-14, and the program offered to youth in middle schools is called Botvin Life Skills Training.

All three PROSPER programs include classroom sessions addressing social and psychological factors leading to drug experimentation through the use of games, discussions, role-playing, worksheets, online content, posters, and videos. Endorsed by the Surgeon General in a 2016 report, the program has produced successful results. According to one randomized study, youth participating in PROSPER had 21 percent less prescription opioid misuse seven years after the program.

“PROSPER communities have wonderful outcomes for youth,” said Tyler-Mackey, who is working to educate a cadre of certified trainers throughout the state. “We have a longer-term strategy to start with a few communities and expand. Other states have had success with PROSPER, so we want to continue with that.”

“Given the importance of this effort and the need for partnerships to address the opioid epidemic at all levels, we’re also working to coordinate efforts across the state and region by building relationships with other universities, state agencies, hospitals, schools, and institutions who have a role to play in the opioid epidemic,” said Hosig.

In May, Hosig and other experts from Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Tech Center for Public Health Practice and Research, and the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance brought together 71 higher education representatives from 23 colleges and universities across the region, along with community representatives from health departments, community services boards, and law enforcement for a day of conversations on how to jointly combat the opioid epidemic. Suggested next steps from the workshop include developing a common research agenda, formulating a regional approach, and integrating information on opioid misuse and abuse into the curricula at institutions of higher learning.

The workshop and NIFA awards would not have been possible without Virginia Cooperative Extension leaders Ed Jones, director; Cathy Sutphin, associate director of youth, families, and health; Karen Vines, an Extension specialist and assistant professor; and, Hosig, as well as colleagues at Virginia Tech, VSU, and the Virginia Rural Health Association. Jones’ leadership was instrumental in helping to secure NIFA funding – funding that stands to help save many lives.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is also partnering with West Virginia Cooperative Extension to develop steps to address the epidemic.

“The good news is that the opioid crisis in this country is being attacked on all sides as people and agencies on federal, state, and local levels come together to fight this problem,” said Tyler-Mackey.

– Written by Amy Painter

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Wellness Display at Portsmouth City Hall creates increased health awareness for National Nutrition Month

2018 National Nutrition Month Display in Portsmouth City Hall

VCE-City of Portsmouth’s National Nutrition Month Nutrition and Wellness Display in Portsmouth’s City Hall

In 2015, the Virginia County Health Rankings (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), which measures the overall health of each county in all 50 states, ranked the City of Portsmouth at 118th for its health performance. The health ranking is one of the tools used to determine the need for educational and community-based health programs in an area.

In addition, the Healthy People 2020 Initiative (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotions) now encourages the development of programs and partnerships that can make a difference in communities’ health outcomes. Employee wellness programs were especially noted for gains in disease prevention and injury and improvement in health and quality of life.

According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Situation Analysis Survey, City of Portsmouth citizens reported that the most important issue regarding health and wellness is learning healthy eating habits and nutrition.

RESPONSE

Each year in March, Crystal Barber — the Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent and registered dietitian for the VCE–City of Portsmouth office — incorporates National Nutrition Month (NNM) campaign messages, along with research-based information provided by VCE to support individual and family health education needs.

The 2018 NNM event was held in the Portsmouth City Hall lobby, and 225 individuals visited the exhibit. To help promote the theme, “Go Further With Food,” free handouts on nutrition and wellness, upcoming programs, and incentives were provided. Assisting with this effort were Anthem Healthcare representative Lelani Lawrence and Portsmouth Public library staff member LuKendra Banks.

Healthy eating samples were set up to educate participants about making healthy food and drink choices. Cabot Cheese donated several varieties of portioned, sliced cheese, nutrition and wellness educational brochures, and recipes.

The Department of Parks and Recreation and Leisure Services Assistant Director Mark Palamarchuck helped with food storage and setup for cold items to ensure the safety of perishable healthy snacks. The Portsmouth Public Library provided a list of nutrition and wellness books by credible authors that addressed current nutrition trends. The Portsmouth Department of Marketing, Communications, and Tourism donated City of Portsmouth giveaways.

Master Food Volunteer Regina Jones and FCS Occasional Volunteer Regina Hines also assisted with the event.

RESULTS

Comments were submitted by 52 of the 225 participants:

  • 98 percent of participants stated that the display was very informative and well-organized;
  • 95 percent of participants stated that the program increased their knowledge about nutrition, wellness, and other VCE programs.

Comments received:

  • “Love the way the information was provided across the life span.”
  • “This event encourages people to keep a healthy lifestyle.”
  • “The free handouts on the tables were very informative. Some info I can share with my family.”
  • “The event has been beneficial for me. Every year, I learn something from the interaction and the handouts, and enjoy the healthy snacks. There have been some that I actually purchased while shopping for groceries, for example, hummus.”
  • “Love the setup. Really looking forward to speaking to the dietitian in-depth.”
  • “The presenters were knowledgeable and friendly, and I loved the healthy snacks and Portsmouth incentives.”
  • “This event has given me new motivation, and I plan to enroll in the VCE Diabetes Prevention Program.”
  • “Please continue to be seen at City Hall on a regular basis as a reminder to us that ‘We Are What We Eat.'”
  • “It was great to get so much valuable information on nutrition and wellness. I also got lots of info on the Master Gardeners.”
  • “This was a great opportunity for the employees of Portsmouth to learn about nutrition. The display is very informative, and the programs are wonderful.”

FOLLOW-UP

Mark Palamarchuck suggested that the Department of Parks and Recreation become more involved in the event. It was determined that a National Nutrition Month Wellness Display Planning Committee should be established for next year’s event. Current and new partners, including city employees and residents, are invited to become a part of this impactful effort geared towards improving the health of our city.

Please contact Crystal Barber at 757-393-5125 if you are interested in serving on this committee.

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Stop Diabetes Now – Know Your Risk

Being proactive with your health is easier than ever and starts with knowing your health risks. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 84 million American adults (1 in 3 adults) have prediabetes, but that 90 percent of them don’t know that they have it.

Prediabetes is a condition in which a person’s blood sugar is high, but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. It is an important sign that a person is at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The good news is that there are easy screening tests to tell if you have prediabetes, and the condition can often be reversed through simple changes in lifestyle.

Who is at risk for prediabetes? In general, people who are overweight or obese (check out your weight status on the chart below) and aren’t regularly physically active. People who have a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes are also at higher risk, as are men and people over 40 years old. In addition, women with a history of gestational diabetes are at greater risk for having prediabetes.

chart-prediabetes

You can find out if you are at risk for prediabetes by taking a simple online risk test at DoIHavePrediabetes.org. If after taking the test, you find that you are at increased risk, make an appointment to see your doctor, who will do a blood test to check your blood sugar. Diagnosis is the key. Once you know where you stand, you can take steps to reduce your risk.

The sooner people with prediabetes make healthy changes, the better their chance of reversing prediabetes. Now there is a proven program to help people do just that.

The National Diabetes Prevention Program helps people with prediabetes prevent or delay developing type 2 diabetes. A lifestyle coach works with participants over an extended period and uses tested methods to help them learn to manage their weight, establish a regular routine of physical activity, and develop a healthy eating pattern. A program will be offered on the Virginia Tech campus in spring 2018.

If you think you are at risk, take the following steps:

  1. Take the online screening test;
  2. If at risk, make an appointment with your doctor; and
  3. Inquire about the National Diabetes Prevention Program being offered in the spring.

Contact

Lynn Margheim
lynn85@vt.edu

Carlin Rafie
crafie@vt.edu

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Sign the Healthy Meetings Pledge

Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) is on the front lines of helping our communities be the healthiest they can be. Having a healthy eating pattern and being active is key to good mental and physical health and quality of life. Protecting the skin from sun damage when working and playing outdoors at all ages significantly reduces the risk of skin cancer.

As community health educators and representatives of VCE, we have the opportunity to set the example and to model a commitment to a healthy lifestyle. The Healthy Meetings Initiative invites you to join your colleagues in developing a culture of health within VCE and among the clients that we serve.

By signing the Healthy Meetings Pledge, you are agreeing to:

  1. Make your programs and meetings an example of healthy living;
  2. Document your healthy meetings on the Healthy Meetings Checklist (see VCE Publications);
  3. Share your successes with pictures on the VCE Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages, when possible;
  4. Use hashtage #VCEHealthyMeeting to spread the word;
  5. Let us know what you did by answering the end-of-the-year survey that will be distributed to all individuals and units that sign the pledge during the year.

Sign the pledge here, and join your VCE colleagues in creating communities of health!

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Virginia Cooperative Extension employees increase colorectal cancer screening rates by 20 percent

Colorectal cancer is the third-most commonly diagnosed and third-most fatal cancer in men and in women in the United States and Virginia. New screening methods have allowed for both the early detection of colorectal cancer and its prevention through the removal of intestinal polyps before they become cancerous. Early detection of colorectal cancer is crucial to successful treatment and increases survival rates from 13.1 percent, when discovered at an advanced stage, to 90 percent, if detected at an early, localized stage. In addition to screenings, a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a healthy eating pattern, and appropriate weight maintenance is pivotal to decreasing risk of colorectal cancer.

Eighty by 2018 emblem

In February 2016, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) joined the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable’s “80% by 2018 Initiative” to eliminate colorectal cancer as a public health issue. Conducted for VCE employees, a colorectal cancer awareness campaign urged eligible members to get screened for colorectal cancer and encouraged everyone to adopt healthy lifestyle practices that reduce colorectal cancer risk. The campaign’s key message is that “colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable.”

The campaign resulted in healthful changes in diet, exercise, and screening. VCE staff reported increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat every day and substituting white meats for red and processed meats. Half of those asked said they had started exercising, and many increased the time or intensity of their exercise. Most importantly, the actual colorectal cancer screening rate among all VCE employees increased from 52.7 percent in fiscal year 2016 to 73.3% in fiscal year 2017 — a 20.6 percent increase in screening.

The goal within VCE is to reach a colorectal cancer screening rate of 80 percent by 2018, but we are going beyond just educating ourselves. Extension agents are introducing the initiative to the communities they serve. Agents will work with employers in their counties to conduct the “Colon Cancer Free Zone” worksite campaign, which increases employee awareness of colorectal cancer as a preventable disease and helps move them to action. If we work together, we can reach the goal of 80 percent colorectal cancer screening of all eligible Virginians by 2018.

If interested in conducting the “Colon Cancer Free Zone” campaign at your worksite, please contact Carlin Rafie at crafie@vt.edu or 540-231-3162.

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