Heart Healthy Lenoir Still Beating Strong

Even those who are not seeking to lose weight can participate in the lifestyle study, which helps them make smart decisions about diet and exercise overall.
By Meghan Palko
After receiving a $10 million grant in 2010, the Heart Healthy Lenoir project has taken off as a successful community project urging locals to live healthy lives and beat heart disease.
The grant, given by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is taking place over a five-year period and has steadily contributed to the project’s success. Beginning in late 2011, project coordinators began recruiting and enrolling people to participate in various research projects, and they’ve been pleased with the growth. Around 700 people are currently enrolled, and the community has responded positively to the project as a whole.
“The Heart Healthy Lenoir project has been a great partnership with leaders of Lenoir County, the University of North Carolina, and East Carolina University, as we have been able to examine many aspects of our community together for ways that we can be more focused on a healthier environment,” said Constance Hengel, Director of Community Programming and Development for Lenoir Memorial Hospital.
Among the specific studies within the HHL project is the lifestyle study, a preventative study that helps people make healthier lifestyle choices about issues like eating and exercise. “We have more than 300 participants in our lifestyle study and have made great connections with local health providers and community leaders,” said Dr. Tom Keyserling, Principal Investigator of the study.

Many of those participants are involved in a16-week weight loss program involving two potential components. The first is a group session intervention, which allows people to work with others who have like-minded goals. The second is a combination of group sessions and one-on-one phone counseling. Participants can choose which option works best for their lifestyle.

Even those who are not seeking to lose weight can participate in the lifestyle study through phone counseling, which helps them make smart decisions about diet and exercise overall.
“We are very pleased with the progress of the Heart Healthy Lenoir study,” said Keyserling. “Although our results are not ready yet, so far we know that many people in the lifestyle study have improved their eating habits, increased physical activity, and lost weight.”
Sussie Sutton of La Grange, NC, is just one of the many successful participants of the lifestyle study. Though she holds herself accountable for healthy eating habits and daily exercise, she speaks with a nutritionist once a week to stay on track.
“I do something active every day for at least 30 minutes,” said Sutton. “I absolutely don’t regret participating, and I’m now motivated to keep it going.” Since becoming a participant she has come off of her high blood pressure and diabetes prescriptions, and she doesn’t need pain medication as much as she used to.
In addition, the project includes a Hypertension Program, which allows local practices to provide better care for patients with hypertension. The program includes two primary interventions. One provides team-based care, which ensures patients can rely on doctors—as well as all medical office staff—for great care and attention in treating hypertension.
The second intervention provides home blood pressure monitors to patients. When patients can track their blood pressure every day, they can provide more comprehensive information to their health care providers for thorough blood pressure assessments. Patients can also participate in monthly phone coaching, which allows them to talk about the progress or setbacks they face in trying to lower their blood pressure. Phone counselors then provide summaries of patient progress to their doctors to ensure optimal health care.
“Never have we been more aware of so many assets in our community for improving health,” said Hengel. “Projects like HHL invigorate attitude, focus, and collaboration.” Community projects also facilitate teamwork and allow people to hold each other accountable for improving their lifestyles. Heart health is a serious matter, and a sense of community provides invaluable support. “The high incidence of heart disease here must continue to be a personal issue for our residents and hopefully we will be able to increase positive health behaviors through a number of efforts.”