People with disabilities in Wisconsin have some of the poorest health outcomes in our state, but often not due to their disability alone. In fact, research tells us that poor health habits and lack of education is often the culprit. That’s why The Arc Wisconsin and its local chapters are leading the way to improve health outcomes.
The Arc Racine, The Arc of Greater Columbia County and The Arc Fond du Lac supported more than 60 people with disabilities in 2017-2018 to complete the “Health and Fitness for All” training with the support of funding from Anthem BlueCross BlueShield. Health and Fitness for All is a 12-week program that stresses the importance of exercise and a healthy diet.
Health and Fitness for All utilizes the HealthMatters™ curriculum – an evidence-based training developed by the University of Illinois at Chicago that provides a tailored physical activity and health education program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“Our students really enjoyed tracking their exercise and coming back to class each week to show how they had worked out,” says The Arc Racine instructor, Alison Henry. “We now have people who know how to make healthy snacks and are taking their dog for a walk every day. The program has motivated them be healthier.”
“Some of the participants in the program have already made changes in their lifestyle,” says The Arc Fond du Lac instructor, Brian Shaver. “We now have one person who has eliminated soda and is drinking more water. Other people are doing exercises and yoga at home outside of class. Even our staff are getting into it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, adults with disabilities have an almost 60 percent higher rate of obesity than adults without disabilities. People with disabilities also experience three times the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer as compared to the general population. Wisconsin adults ages 18-64 with a disability have obesity rates that are almost double compared to people without disabilities (43% to 25%). Read more about health disparities for Wisconsinites with disabilities here: Health Disparities for People with Disabilities in Wisconsin
“Anthem is committed to improving the overall health and well-being of its members and we understand the important role that healthy eating decisions and physical activity can have on achieving that goal,” said Leon Lamoreaux, Anthem Medicaid plan president in Wisconsin. “We are thrilled to have worked with The Arc to help promote health education, improve access to healthy foods and increase physical activity for those who participated in this program.”
A research report authored by The Arc of the United States followed more than 1700 people with I/DD who completed the HealthMatters training. Participants lost weight, improved their BMI, lowered blood pressure and, most importantly, reported making lifestyle changes. Three out of four participants (76%) reported using the information they learned to make healthier lifestyle choices.
ABOUT The Arc/ANTHEM Partnership:
The “Health and Fitness for All” project is funded by an almost $88,000 national grant from Anthem BlueCross BlueShield’s parent company, the Anthem Foundation, which will be used to conduct this health project at nine chapters of The Arc in Wisconsin, Texas, and Kentucky.