David Chong always believed he was living a healthy lifestyle. A board member for the Lake Nona YMCA, Chong had an established habit of working out for 90 minutes at least three to four times a week, and he’d always maintained a healthy body weight. However, his perception all changed once his doctor noticed his rising cholesterol, blood sugar levels and blood pressure. The active father of four was suddenly on medication to manage all three conditions and completely baffled as to what was happening with his body.
“It was really a shock to my system,” said Chong. “To everyone else, I was this beacon of health, but my body was rebelling against me and I had no idea why.”
When the YMCA of Central Florida and the UnitedHealth Foundation launched an innovative pilot called HealthierLifeRX in 2015, Chong knew he needed to enroll. The program relies on a collaborative care model that connects primary care physicians and their patients with a lifestyle coach from the YMCA of Central Florida, who all work together to help the patient achieve their individual health goals.
“We’re bridging the gap between doctors and the community,” said Erik Olsson, Chong’s lifestyle coach. “By getting to work with and meet with our participants once a month, over the course of the year, we’re really able to get know them on a personal level. We become their friends and their accountability and we have a better perception of what their lifestyle is like, what their physical capabilities are, and what adjustments can be made to improve their lives.”
After Olsson’s first meeting with Chong, he sent him home with a Garmin activity tracker and gave him instructions to start tracking his food intake using an online calorie counter. It only took a few sessions before Olsson was able to diagnose the cause of the Chong’s health problems: his diet.
“There have been lots of studies and informal surveys that show that the majority of Americans have a false perception of their diets,” said Dr. Beth Boyer Kollas, executive director of health outcomes and program integration at the Central Florida YMCA. “Many people, David included, think they are eating healthy and meeting their nutritional needs, but research says differently. More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, and the CDC says 80 percent of Americans aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables. A lot of that is because they don’t have the proper education or tools to make the right choices.”
Chong’s food diary revealed that his caloric intake was higher than it should be, and that he was consuming too much sodium and sugar. Since entering the HealthierLifeRX program over a year ago, Chong has made changes to his lifestyle – including eating out less – and put a greater focus on nutrition. As a result, he’s lost 10 pounds and his cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels have decreased and returned to normal levels. Now, his primary care physician is talking about taking him off all of his medications .
“I am so thankful for HealthierLifeRx. The continued support throughout the last year has enabled me to address my health goals that I wasn’t able to do on my own,” said Chong. “I am amazed that by being consistent with making small changes to my lifestyle, I was able impact my health in such a positive way.”
Chong isn’t the only success story to graduate from the program. Eighteen-month results from the program show that 20 percent of participants have been able to reduce the number of medications they are taking, 90 percent have increased their physical activity level to include at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, and overweight/obese participants have lost an average of 4 percent of their body weight in the first six months of the program.
“We see through the successes of participants in HealthierLifeRx how healthier communities can result when true care collaboration happens,” said David Lewis, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Central and North Florida. “The United Health Foundation’s partnership for this model program extends beyond the YMCA, engaging with local physicians and institutions to improve the health – and the health care experience – of people across the Orlando area.”
HealthierLifeRx is a three-year pilot program funded through a $1.7 million grant from United Health Foundation. It is part of the foundation’s “Helping Build Healthier Communities” program that is providing critical resources to nonprofits and community-based organizations to improve people’s health. For more information on the pilot, visit www.healthierliferx.com.