Nursing, social work programs to fight obesity in Grand Rapids

GVL / Amy Hammond
GVSU student Erika Ymker working out in between classes.

Amy Hammond

GVL / Amy Hammond GVSU student Erika Ymker working out in between classes.

Lizzy Balboa

Grand Valley State University has been appointed the project director of a program developed by the Michigan Department of Community Health to fight obesity levels in the state.

According to a press release, the MDCH received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to implement programs to diminish obesity in Grand Rapids and Detroit.

GVSU’s Kirkhof College of Nursing will stand on the frontlines of the initiative as it works with clients out of the GVSU Family Health Center to improve their diet and exercise habits.

Nutrition professor Jody Vogelzang said it is important for the issue of obesity to be addressed now because is it becoming prevalent, but also a generational problem. The U.S., especially Michigan, has seen a high increase in childhood and adulthood obesity over the years.

“We’re looking at a whole generation that’s moving straight into it without any safeguards in place,” Vogelzang said, adding that obesity is a large risk because its tendrils are found in many other diseases.

“Obesity is just so relational to many other chronic diseases,” she said. “(When we) take a look at food choices, the piling on of pounds, we start to look at cardiac issues…joint issues…and some of the cancers that seem to be in high fat diets that lead to obesity.”

Jean Nagelkerk, GVSU vice provost for Health, agreed that the far-reaching consequences of obesity need to be addressed.

“If we can address obesity, we can minimize some of the risk factors,” Nagelkerk said, adding that eliminating the threat of obesity will help area residents live healthier, spend less on health care and improve the quality of their lives.

In addition to diet and exercise assistance, GVSU will also offer clients social support, which will come from the social work program.

Dianne Green-Smith, director of the GVSU School of Social Work, said she is not yet aware of how her students will contribute to the program, but they will be able to offer a unique perspective to address the problems.

“If we’re going to do work to fight obesity, we have the ability to help people look at issues that impact their lives,” Green-Smith said.

Social workers could examine economic, social and cultural factors for obesity to help people examine not only what and how they eat, but why they purchase the food that they do, she said. They can also help clients develop plans to access appropriate and healthy foods.

Nagelkerk said the university is still planning its strategy, but the goal is to start community intervention in January.

Despite the many approaches to confront obesity, the health factor for residents is only one part of the project. Nagelkerk said the MDCH grant serves a second purpose: to develop interprofessional collaborative practice, or team-based care.

“Grand Valley has been leading the West Michigan Interprofessional Education Initiative, and that’s why they chose us as the program director,” she said. “Part of the grant is to develop interprofessional communication in these two sites (Detroit and Grand Rapids).”

Nagelkerk said a lot of errors occur in health care because of poor communication between professionals of different disciplines; having more than one type of professional working together will help eliminate errors and improve patient outcomes.

But the benefits of the program are not only felt by the clients.

“The good news is, both at Wayne State and Grand Valley, our undergraduate nursing students and nurse practitioner students will be practicing and doing clinical placements in the center,” Nagelkerk said. Social work students will also rotate through the program to gain practical experience.

GVSU will work with the Wayne State University College of Nursing, Michigan Area Health Education Council and Michigan Health Council on this initiative.
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