Smart Investment: Preventative Healthcare

Valley residents are making informed decisions that help prevent long-term health conditions, thanks in part to educational campaigns by local health organizations.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. - Benjamin Franklin

Nonprofits serving the Valley are putting those words into action, educating residents in our community about the benefits of adopting a healthy lifestyle, and striving to prevent chronic conditions down the road.

It starts early with the Valley Initiative to Advance Health & Learning in Schools (VITAHLS), a collaboration of Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center (PRC), Griffin Hospital and Valley School Districts. VITAHLS is implementing school-based nutrition and exercise programs with a goal to reduce the prevalence of obesity among students in Pre-K through 12th grade.

"It's one of our core research initiatives," says Beth Comerford, Deputy Director of Yale-Griffin PRC. "It's largely obesity prevention, but through that you reach several chronic diseases - hypertension, heart disease, diabetes - and their prevention."
Going into its fourth year, the VITAHLS Initiative features programs like "Nutrition Detectives" and "ABC (Activity Bursts in the Classroom) for Fitness©" in elementary schools.
"We're focused on getting that 30 minutes of activity every day," says Amy Shields, Public Health Specialist at Naugatuck Valley Health District (NVHD), one of the key partners in implementing VITAHLS. She says the emphasis has been on elementary students, but the plan is to do more in secondary schools. A successful first step was the Healthy Cooking Challenge among 6th grade students this past school year (photo on cover), that featured a final Cook-Off with Chef Neil Fuentes.

Education is the basis of preventive health, and the Valley Parish Nurses play an important role in making sure residents have the knowledge to live a healthy lifestyle.

"They act as health educators," explains Daun Barrett, Director of Community Outreach and Parish Nursing at Griffin. About 75 nurses volunteer their time through 30 churches in the Valley. "They link people to all the services they may need."

Free community screenings, for blood pressure, cholesterol and skin cancer, open the door to conversations about overall health, says Barrett. The screenings, made possible with funding from organizations like the VCF and Matthies and Hewitt Foundations, give nurses a chance to learn more about residents and provide them with information and referrals to other health services.

The Valley Women's Health Initiative encourages women to get mammograms and provides free services to those without insurance or the ability to pay. The unfortunate reality is that one in eight women will get breast cancer at some time in their life, and may need support.

The Valley Goes Pink is a grass-roots effort to raise awareness about breast health and early detection. What started as a week-long campaign in October of 2010 has now grown into a month-long "Pink Party."

"We invite people all over the Valley to do their own events and donate the proceeds to the The Hewitt Center for Breast Wellness (at Griffin Hospital)," explains Connie Evans, Executive Director of Griffin Hospital's Development Fund. She helps businesses and groups in the community publicize their events, which raised about $60,000 last year. "The best part about it is the younger generation learning about philanthropy; they take the vision and grow it and they get to see where it's going."

Seymour Pink has turned raising awareness, funding research and providing support for breast cancer patients and families in the Valley into a year-round effort. President and Founder, Mary Deming says there was a need in the Valley that was bigger than she realized.

So big, in fact, that Seymour Pink will open a store in September at 3 Franklin Street. Residents can buy apparel, like the Annual Seymour Pink Day T-shirt, to support the efforts of the organization. Valley residents currently receiving breast cancer treatment can pick up financial assistance applications at the store, as well.

It's not only about women's health. The Health Initiative for Men (HiM) is raising awareness about men's health issues (see article next page).

There are many more preventive health resources in the Valley. including dental clinics, a chronic disease management program and a coalition focused on maternal health and women's reproductive services in the Valley, led by NVHD.

Let's not forget our natural resources. There are miles of riverfront trails and community paths for walking and biking. Rivers provide opportunities for fishing, boating and kayaking.
Good nutrition, regular exercise and healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce the risks of obesity and illness for everyone.

What you can do:

Get Active!
At least 30 minutes of daily activity is recommended for adults. Yale-Griffin PRC has created a program for adults, "Activity Bursts Everywhere (ABE) for Fitness©" available at ABEforFitness. Or, take a walk on the Valley Greenway.

For Women
Practice breast self-exams and talk to your doctor about the Breast Health Risk Assesment Tool

For Men
Talk to your doctor about what tests and screenings are appropriate, based on age and family history.

Support Your Community
Learn about events and activities supporting awareness and preventive health measures.