Project grant to help vets MOVE forward

Two community organizations will expand a national health program to university students this semester.

The MOVE! Project, a federally funded weight-loss and health initiative previously only available for veterans, received a grant to expand the program and train community-based educator teams of civilians in places such as churches, schools and other community centers, said Sharon Peterson, registered dietician and staff member of the VA Medical Center’s MOVE! Project.

Both Eta Sigma Gamma, a campus health organization, and the Marion Veterans Affairs Medical Center plan to bring the program to students.

Peterson said the cooperation between Eta Sigma Gamma and the medical center is part of the Move to a Healthier Community grant, which helps area groups receive free training and materials to run the six-session wellness program in their communities. The program can help provide structure, she said, but it can also support both veteran and civilian students who want to become healthier.

“Over 75 percent of veterans in our region are overweight or obese, having a Body Mass Index over 25,” Peterson said.

BMI is a height and weight-based measurement used by the National Institutes of Health as a guideline to determine whether an individual is overweight or obese, and the U.S. military and Veterans Administration uses the same basic mathematical formula.

“The program is offered at no cost to participants, and the groups running it can structure it however they like, whether it is weekly classes, bi-weekly or however best meets the needs of the participants,” Peterson said.

Issues such as stress, a greater access to high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and a lack of natural physical activity contribute to the high number of overweight veterans, Peterson said, and these same factors also affect the general public. The program is designed to not only help participants lose weight, but also educate them on how to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle, she said.

“The program consists of classes on how chronic disease and weight can affect overall health, managing stress, setting goals and even quick and effective healthy cooking methods,” she said.

Bethany Kies, a doctoral student in health education from Platteville, Wis., is part of the Eta Sigma Gamma group who will bring the MOVE! curriculum to campus. She said health education students are already focused on health and wellness, so the choice of which semester project to conduct was an easy one.

“We do a project every semester, and for the spring we wanted to do something more community-based,” she said. “When we heard about the MOVE! project, it seemed like a natural fit.”

Kies said a meeting held this week should determine the date and location of the group’s first seminar, and she has high expectations for the program.

“We’ll release flyers around campus when we’re fully organized, and we’re focusing on students, as well as veterans who are just coming back to school,” she said.

Rosanna McMillin, a graduate student in curriculum and instruction in secondary education from Vichy, Mo., said her only issue with the MOVE! program as a full-time student is having to drive to Marion. She said an on-campus program would be more convenient.

“We’re planning to make the sessions available right on campus, so they’re accessible to everyone,” Kies said.

Ryan McKennedy, vice president of the Student Veterans Organization and senior from Springfield studying psychology, said a lack of structure and organization can affect both veterans’ and students’ health and wellness.

“I gained almost 30 pounds after coming back from my deployment,” he said. “I was used to someone telling me what to do and having structure. Once I came to school it all went away.”

McMillin participated in the MOVE! program in both Virginia and Marion. She said she decided to join the program for the structure and support it offers.

“I was having no success with losing weight on my own,” she said. “I realized I need the support.”

A general orientation meeting and weigh-in begins the program, McMillin said, and each session teaches various topics, such as “Creating a healthier you,” “You are the boss” and “The psychology of eating.” The focus is to become healthier overall rather than simply losing weight, she said.

“I know more about portion control and having a balanced plate than I did before,” she said. “The program also provided me with a free pedometer so I can track how much I walk in a day.”

McMillin said teachers’ and other participants’ support contributes to her success.

“They don’t play that whole ‘You should know better, you should exercise every day, you eat too much junk food’ shame game, which is nice,” she said. “They acknowledge that sometimes things just happen that get you off track and that’s OK. I really appreciate that I am treated like a human being and not just another number on a chart.”

Keis said interested students are encouraged to contact Jackson Bass, a senior studying health education and Eta Sigma Gamma member, at jacksonbass79@siu.edu for more information.

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