The West Cook YMCA has partnered with the Village of Oak Park to broaden its programming in a community-wide health equity initiative to address obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. The village board unanimously voted to allot $1.27 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds toward the pilot program.

The three health conditions the program seeks to address already pose a significant threat to the village. Of Oak Park’s 52,000 residents, 38% are pre-diabetic, 47% have hypertension and 42% are obese, according to West Cook YMCA President Philip Jimenez, who spoke at the village board’s April 24 meeting.

“The data tells us these are the critical factors that are hitting our community,” said Jimenez.

While these figures are also in line with national health trends, the YMCA and the Oak Park Public Health Department intend to reverse those trends locally to improve health outcomes, quality of life and wellbeing. 

“This isn’t somewhere else in the U.S. This is right here,” said Trustee Chibuike Enyia. 

Jimenez developed the initiative in collaboration with Oak Park Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder and Danielle Walker, the village’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. 

There are three separate intervention programs within the wider health equity initiative. The diabetes prevention program, which will extend for one year with 26 sessions, caters to individuals at risk of becoming diabetic by increasing their physical exercise and teaching them healthier eating habits. The goal is to decrease the body weight of each participant by 5-7% and increase their exercise output to 150 minutes weekly, thereby reducing each participants’ risk of diabetes. Participants will meet in a small group within a community setting. 

The four-month blood pressure self-monitoring program, offered at YMCAs across the country, helps people with hypertension prevent heart disease and strokes. The program involves teaching individuals how to properly self-monitor their blood pressure at home, while providing individualized support and nutrition education. 

For weight loss, the initiative includes a group-based program lasting 12 consecutive weeks. Participants meet one hour weekly during that time, where they will engage in discussions, goal setting and education. Those in the program will partake in weekly weigh-ins, food tracking and physical activity. 

The initiative includes partnerships with medical and education institutions as well. Loyola University Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital will provide referrals, while Dominican University will provide educational support. 

Those involved in developing the initiative were praised for their collaborative efforts to address these three chronic diseases. COVID-19, the very virus that spurred the creation of ARPA, poses a greater risk to those living with hypertension, obesity and diabetes.

“You really drilled down and came up with a program that has just a really humongous potential to do great good with our funds,” said Village President Vicki Scaman.

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