A small rural community’s municipal building in central Virginia might be the last place you would think Veterans are receiving healthcare, but for patients near Tappahannock, the McGuire VA Medical Center’s Rural Health Initiative (RHI) team is offering MOVE!, or Managing Overweight and/or Obesity for Veterans Everywhere, a weight management and health education class. MOVE! was designed to assist Veterans with losing weight and keeping it off by providing education and support to live a healthier lifestyle. It uses behavioral, nutrition and physical activity components and changes the focus each week to keep students engaged.
The Tappahannock MOVE! Class is taught by McGuire nurse Clarissa Sweeney. She has taken Veterans through the initial assessment process in Richmond, and has seen the class grow since that first session.
“Each time we have class, I see a new face,” Sweeney said. Besides being a Navy Veteran, she was excited to have the opportunity to teach MOVE! because she enjoys interacting with and motivating Veterans.Sweeney shared that one of the goals of the RHI is to provide Health Promotion Disease Prevention and wellness education for rural Veterans residing in McGuire VA Medical Center catchment areas. Tappahannock was chosen because RHI listened to feedback from Vets requesting weight management classes.
“I registered in MOVE! because I have been fighting diabetes for about 10 years,” said Navy Veteran David Stanbridge. “I had the opportunity to go to the MOVE! Class at McGuire, but if they didn’t offer it here, I couldn’t drive that every week.”
Stanbridge was one of a couple of Veterans that brought his spouse to the class which is open to them, even if they are not Veterans themselves. “I brought my wife to class with me because she was with me while in service, so she is with me here.”
Army Veteran Luther Derby stretches out his arms during MOVE! class in Tappahannock, Va. Derby takes the information he receives in class and puts it to work. The class has provided rewards for Derby who is 87, and has managed to lose 10 pounds after the first three classes. (VA photo by Steve Goetsch)
Stanbridge and his fellow students in the Tappahannock class struggling with weight management are not alone with their concerns. Ruth Meyer, the McGuire MOVE! coordinator says that obesity is becoming an epidemic, and she knows why. “There is a high cost to obesity and a high incidence rate in the military and Veteran populations that hovers around 75 percent,” said Meyer. “Overeating is an addiction just like any other one like smoking or drugs.”
McGuire VAMC has almost 52,000 Veterans assigned to a primary care provider. Of those, almost 16,000 are diagnosed with obesity. Overweight is characterized as having a BMI of 25 or greater, and obesity with a BMI of 30 or greater. If females have a waist size over 35 or 40 inches for males, they are considered to be at high risk for “obesity” related diseases.
One of the components, nutrition, teaches students how to read labels, learn about food ingredients and portion control. That has been a challenge for Veteran Raymond Barnes who has set himself a goal to reach 200 pounds. “I have always been active, but I like to eat,” Barnes said. “So portion control has been an issue for me.”
Sweeney cautions the students to not get hung up on the numbers they see on the scale during their weekly weigh ins. That has not dissuaded Barnes from keeping an eye on that scale and using numbers to stay on track. “Coming here at least motivates me,” Barnes said. “It seems to be working because I’ve lost over 11 pounds.”
In addition to exercise recommendations, the physical activity component includes stretching and relaxation breathing exercises. Students were also provided pedometers to help them keep track of their activity levels and provide inputs for their individual goal plans.
MOVE!, Mobile Medical unit services and health education classes offered by McGuire are all part of an effort to reach the almost 17,000 Veterans enrolled at McGuire that live in rural or highly rural areas like Tappahannock. Meyer said MOVE! is available at all of the Community Based Outpatient Clinics, and there is also a plan to bring it to the Cumberland area.
World War II Veteran Luther Derby, who is the oldest student in Sweeney’s class and knew he had to lose weight, likes the class because it makes him conscious about different factors of his health. “It covers all phases of your health; exercise, diet, nutrition and immune systems,” said Derby. “If you put the information you get to work, you will be much healthier.”
Derby admits prior to class he just never paid attention to most of the things he has learned, but knows with his high blood pressure he needed to change. The Army Veteran has been putting theory into practice because he lost 10 pounds by the third session.
Charles Lengford, another Veteran who attended MOVE! with his wife, doesn’t have a weight goal in mind, but said he wants to reduce the numbers of medications he takes. Meyer added that that there are a host of comorbid conditions associated with not maintaining a healthy lifestyle such as; hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterol, gastric reflux and sleep apnea.
If you are a qualified Veteran who receives care at a VA medical facility and are interested in learning how to improve your health through education, you can sign up for MOVE! by calling 804-675-5000 ext. 3737. You can learn more about the program at http://www.move.va.gov/, or take a look at the McGuire MOVE! Brochure.
Steve Goetsch is a public affairs specialist for the McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va. He was a high voltage electrician for 14 years until transitioning into an Air Force journalist covering military life and operations around the globe.