By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
All of Pennsylvania is invited to make a habit of healthy eating during the month of February.
The 2016 Nutrition Habit Challenge encourages communities across the state to change a nutritional behavior such as replacing soda with water or eating more vegetables. People that successfully complete the challenge will have a chance to win the grand prize of a trip for four to Disney World. People must register by Sunday through the website at www.psahperd.org/Challenge-Registration to participate.
February also happens to be American Heart Month. Cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and high blood pressure are the number one killer of both American men and women. A heart healthy diet is one way to help lower the risks of heart disease.
The Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Inc. organized the statewide nutrition challenge. The health association is a nonprofit that encourages healthy lifestyles throughout Pennsylvania. After attending a convention for the association; Boyertown teachers made a plan to get their community eating healthier.
“We decided this would really be great for the whole community,” said Lucie Bergeyova, Boyertown Area Senior High School health and physical education lead teacher.
The school district worked with the Boyertown YMCA and the Wellness Council of Boyertown to spread the word. As another incentive, the wellness council is providing additional prizes for Boyertown residents such as gift cards and cookbooks. The Boyertown YMCA will have free fitness activities open to the community every week of February, Bergeyova said. Each fitness activity will also include nutrition tips. Bergeyova said she hopes Boyertown and other communities are inspired to make healthy changes for life.
“It takes three weeks to create a habit,” she said adding that the statewide challenge lasts for a month. “I’m hoping the community will eventually continue with these healthy habits.”
“People can choose their own nutritional habit that they want to fix,” said Boyertown Wellness Council Director Diane Lauer.
She said the challenge provides a list of about 20 healthy eating habits to choose from such as eating breakfast daily or starting a food journal. People register for the challenge by the school district they live in but it’s open to everybody not just students.
There is an emphasis on the schools because “our children are our future,” said Kim Burke, co-founder of the Nutrition Health Challenge. The idea is that the students will invite the rest of their family to the challenge then the whole community, she said.
Burke and cofounder Bruce Burke started the challenge in 2010 to inspire clients at their fitness facility One on One in State College. Burke said she wanted clients focused on nutrition and not just physical fitness. In 2014, the challenge was opened to the entire State College community and last year more than 2,200 people participated.
In March, Burke spoke with Melanie Lynch, president of the state health association organizing this year’s challenge. Burke said Lynch opened the challenge up to the entire state for 2016 as her presidential project.
“After seeing how effective the NHC (Nutrition Habit Challenge) was in my own community, I was certain that PSAHERD (Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance) would be the perfect organization to inspire and empower every community to take steps to improve their nutrition habits,” stated Lynch on the challenge website.
Burke said she believes in personal responsibility and that people should know it’s important to make nutrition a priority. She was excited to have the challenge be opened to all of Pennsylvania this year.
“It’s awesome. We love to see this thing go national,” she said.
Burke said the challenge is about the “less is more principle” meaning to start with small changes that will eventually lead to lifelong healthy habits.