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Health challenge helps losers win
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Most towns do not boast about losing, but West Point residents earned some serious bragging rights in a weight-loss challenge this year.
Prompted by Mississippi's recognition as the "fattest state in the nation," Clay County Extension Director Donna Cliett wanted to reverse the growing trend. In a showing of sincere commitment to healthier lifestyles, community residents lost nearly 6,000 pounds during the first three months of 2004.
"Last fall, we formed an advisory group to help us address problems we were seeing among individual residents and whole families struggling with weight and health issues," Cliett said. "Our original goal was to sign up 1 percent of the county for a weight-loss and health improvement program. Instead of 220 people, we had more than 1,200 enroll."
Organizers of the program, "Weigh Down in West Point," encouraged teams of 10 people to lose a cumulative 100 pounds during a 12-week period beginning mid-January. The advisory group included people from Mississippi State University's Extension Service, the Clay County Medical Center, and the state and local AARP.
"We knew we couldn't communicate all the educational material one-on-one, so we required at least one team member to attend one of the three seminars each week," Cliett said. "We had hoped that the team accountability would motivate people to be healthier and lose weight, but in the end, participants said the weekly meetings made the difference."
Cliett described the weekly meetings as repetitive drills on the importance of exercise, portion control, healthy eating, and the reduction of sweets and fats. Participants were encouraged to keep journals of what they consumed and how much they exercised.
"I knew about healthy eating, but the program still helped me lose 20 pounds. There's just something about monitoring what you do and reporting to others that helps you be more responsible in your choices," Cliett said. "Plus, it's hard to tell people what to do and not to do and then be guilty yourself."
Popular demand has prompted organizers to continue monthly sessions throughout 2004 to help individuals stay on their healthier tracks and to continue the educational process. Fourteen of the program's most successful graduates will receive additional training to be mentors for other individuals in the community.
Brenda West, a member of the new mentor team, described the Weigh Down program as the boost she needed after trying many different weight-loss plans over the years. She hopes her success will help others improve their weight and health.
"I learned that exercise is as important as what you eat when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off," West said. "I'm still working toward my goal weight. My main goal is to head off future health problems."
West attended 11 of the 12 educational seminars and gained the most from the first session on goal setting. The phrase "failing to plan is planning to fail" continues to motivate her to plan her meals and exercise regimen.
"Part of the planning included attending the seminars. I learned that a healthy eating plan and daily exercise are small prices to pay compared to being diagnosed with high blood pressure, chronic illness, diabetes and heart problems, not to mention all the medical expenses related to each of these," she said.