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Research leads to successful health promotion program

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Research has an enormous impact on our communities, leading to innovations in disease management, prevention, and treatment. But rarely does a community have so great an impact on research. Lawson Health Research Institute is pleased to celebrate the launch of a new program driven by the community it serves.

In 2010, Lawson’s Dr. Robert Petrella and his team took part in an international study to reduce the risks for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Based in Huron County, their project proposed exercise as medicine, using lifestyle changes and self-monitoring to improve health behaviors, personal motivation, and disease-associated risks.

“Many people think of rural areas as healthy places to live, but this isn’t always the case,” Dr. Petrella explains. “Huron County has a higher proportion of overweight and obesity than healthy weights, and a high incidence of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.” The study gave area residents an opportunity to address these critical heath issues and to become partners in positive change.

Dr. Petrella and his team followed 150 participants, each with health indicators that put them at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.  Based on their fitness levels, each person received an individualized exercise prescription and set goals. For the next year, Dr. Petrella and his team tracked their progress, as well as their weight, blood sugar, cholesterol, and other similar health measures.

“The results were remarkable,” Dr. Petrella says. “The participants walked the equivalent of three and a half times around the world and lost a total of 500 pounds. Their blood pressure also went down significantly. Higher fitness levels, lower weight and lower blood pressure will reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

Needless to say, the residents of Huron County were thrilled with the outcomes. As the study wrapped up, they advocated to turn the research into reality.

“After the research project was over, the participants requested that the program continue and that it be made more accessible to more people,” explains Sheila Cook, the project’s Knowledge Broker. “They asked for regular fitness tests, goal setting and check-ins; access to nutrition counseling; and an easy-to-use website tailored to people who live in rural communities.”

Through evidence-based research and a series of community consultations, Dr. Petrella and his team designed a new program to meet these needs: “HealtheSteps.” In partnership with local family health teams and community partners, they are now offering a series of training modules based on exercise and healthy lifestyle. This program is supported by an interactive web site, group coaching and goal setting, personalized exercise prescriptions, and on-line tracking tools.

Since access to care can be limited to rural residents, Dr. Petrella and his team are especially thrilled to support this community-based service. Moving forward, they hope HealtheSteps will serve as a model for other rural communities across Canada.

“We are really striving to provide communities with support and resources based on best evidence to enable the adoption of healthy lifestyles regardless of where people live,” Dr. Petrella says. “It’s incredibly gratifying to see our research making a difference where the community is now an active partner.”

HealtheSteps is now available, free of charge, to all adults registered with the Huron community Family Health Team. To sign-up, call 519-600-2273. Program information, support tools, and helpful tips are also available on the program’s interactive web site: www.healthesteps.ca.

This project is supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Team and Knowledge Translation Grants. Research space was provided by an in-kind donation from the Gateway Rural Health Research Institute, Canada’s first community-driven centre for rural health research.


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