The Dan River area, which stretches along the border of North Carolina from Patrick to Halifax counties, has an almost 50 percent higher rate of diabetes than the rest of the country and a 5 percent higher rate of obesity. In addition, 17 percent of the area’s residents live below the federal poverty line. One in four do not have health insurance, and this region is confronting health crises that seem to be spinning out of control in many communities.
Virginia Tech researchers are working on a solution to improve the health of the residents of the Dan River area by developing a multi-pronged program called iChoose. The program aims to incorporate not only nutrition education, but also exercise initiatives and community gardens — a multifaceted approach that could be used as a model to battle the obesity epidemic in similar communities across the U.S.
The holistic approach to battling obesity is spearheaded by Jamie Zoellner, associate professor of human nutrition, foods and exercise, and Paul Estabrooks, professor of human nutrition foods, and exercise, and director of the Translational Obesity Research Program. By holding Saturday classes that teach eating and exercise habits to encourage healthy food choices and activities, the two collaborate with community members of Danville, Virginia, to address issues that contribute to a sedentary lifestyle.