UNHS starting new Fruit & Vegetable program

Utah Navajo Health System, Inc. is launching a new program in the Montezuma Creek/Aneth/ Red Mesa area to promote healthy eating, healthy habits and live styles, and stronger family relations.

The program, called the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program  (FVRx), is not new to other parts of the Navajo Reservation. According to one of the program directors, Tiona Grant, it has already been successful in the Monument Valley area for nearly eighteen months. On other parts of the reservation the program has been very successful for years under the Navajo Nation’s COPE program. COPE stands for Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment, a Navajo Nation controlled program, based in Gallup, New Mexico, that focuses on rural communities without access to fruits and vegetables. Former UNHS Dietician, Lauren Hannibal, started the program in Monument Valley eighteen months ago.

The new program in the Montezuma Creek/Aneth area involves several different UNHS Departments that comprise the Diabetes Control Project. The UNHS FVRx Program, UNHS Providers and local stores like the Red Mesa Express stores in Montezuma Creek, Aneth and Red Mesa are part of the program. In Monument Valley Goulding’s Store is the partner store. UNHS Public Health and the Family Spirit Program play a key role in the program that also includes the local elementary schools and head start programs. The program focuses on families that have pregnant women or children from 0-6 years of age. That’s the population group targeted by the first six-month cycle of the program. In order to qualify, participants must be enrolled members of the Navajo Nation, with a CIB (Certificate of Indian Blood). The program is open for all income levels with no specific income requirements that must be met.

Under the program, participants receive $1 per day, per individual in the family. If there are five family members in the program, each receives $1 per day. So the family receives $5 per day in vouchers to be used towards vegetables and fruits at participating stores. Vouchers that participants receive can be used at participating stores in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The stores where these vouchers can be used are listed on the back of the vouchers. If a family travels to Gallup and wants fruits or vegetables, their vouchers can be used at participating stores in Gallup, or where ever they take their vouchers. Originally, the program started in Gallup and spread to Tuba City and Kayenta and other communities. The goal is to take this program to every community on the Navajo Nation and get as many people as possible involved in the program, in order to promote healthy eating, healthy habits and healthy lifestyles. The program brings UNHS clinics, UNHS Providers and community workers together to identify families in the community who qualify, and invite them to participate in the program.

This is the program’s first six-month cycle in this area. Within this six-month cycle Grant says the goal is to get ten families to participate in the program. In Monument Valley they are on the third cycle (eighteen months). The focus of each cycle changes in order to involve more people. For instance, the first cycle in Montezuma Creek/Aneth/Red Mesa involves pregnant women and children 0-6 years. The second cycle will focus on another group of individuals, who can participate in the program and receive vouchers. To receive vouchers participants must meet with the local UNHS Community Outreach group once a month, where they learn about healthy habits. This group includes individuals and groups involved in the UNHS Diabetes Control Program (DCP).

“We’re going to work together as a team because we’re going to talk with families that have little kids, and little kids have really short attention spans,” Grant explained. “So we’re going to see if we can separate the parents and children, and have the children do food demonstrations and have the parents learn about healthy eating and other topics. The curriculum used for these meetings is called “Happy Homes”, an evidence-based program that is taught throughout the Navajo Nation to help parents start teaching healthy habits to their small children, and live with one another in a community that lives healthier and happier lives.”

Grant said each time they meet, participants will be taught new routines like healthy shopping (what to look for in a grocery store) or a physical activity. Screen time is another important topic, especially in rural areas where there may not be many activities for kids to participate in. In these areas, kids tend to spend more time, watching TV and playing video games. Groups might also discuss sleep routines, to identify the best time for family members to go to bed, based on their age and how many hours of sleep they need. Dental health and family time are two other topics. These routines are meant to help families spend more time together and get involved in various family activities, and different meal recipes they are given.

Currently the FVRx is hoping to get ten families involved in the program, but it can accommodate up to twenty-five families. Grant said this first cycle is intended as a training cycle to help get all the team members on board and working together. In other parts of the Navajo Reservation the FVRx program, through COPE, has been very successful and the goal is to extend that success to the Montezuma Creek/Aneth area. She explained that the reason the target population changes every cycle is so new families can become involved in the program.

“The goal is to get families involved in the program for at least one cycle. Then, if they don’t qualify under the new target population for the next cycle, hopefully they will continue to follow through on what they’ve learned. It is possible the same families will qualify under different target requirements, but she noted, the goal is to try and involve as many families as possible.”

According to Shawn Begay, UNHS Public Health Director, the monthly meetings will be held in Montezuma Creek at the UNHS EMS Building. Begay said each meeting will feature a lesson on a different subject each month. Lessons will last no more than an hour and could be shorter, depending on how much participation there is within the group. These meetings are where participants will receive their monthly vouchers and they are mandatory for all participants.

“There will be six lessons in all over a six month period,” Begay said. “We’re hoping to get participation from those in the group and maybe have a round table discussion. We want to know what is working and try to build comradery within the group and the community.”

The deadline date to register for the program is Thursday, August 31, 2017 at 4:30 p.m. For more information about the Food and Vegetable Prescription Program, contact Thelia Rojas in Montezuma Creek at 435-651-3722.

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