The Small Steps to Health and Wealth (SSHW) Online Challenge is a six-week program that allows participants to track their daily choices related to nutrition, physical activity, and personal finances. The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service offers the SSHW, which can be conducted as a single county or multiple-county program. In 2013, Kentucky had more than 245 participants. Cumulative outcomes of the program include: consuming at least 5,568 cups of fruits and vegetables, exercising a minimum of 520.5 hours, replacing 1,808 sugar sweetened beverages with water, saving $1,333 in loose change, and saving $3,917 toward an emergency fund or debt reduction. Evaluations documented preparing 1,456 lunches at home, saving approximately $7,285 over the six-week online challenge. These outcomes show progress made toward healthier lifestyle choices in a short period of time. Here are a few success stories from select counties that participated in the SSHW Online Challenge.

Laura White-Brown, Rowan County Family and Consumer Sciences agent, hosted the Small Steps to Health and Wealth Online Challenge. The challenge was facilitated for Morehead State University Employees, Rowan County school employees, and Kentucky Bank and Citizen’s Bank employees in response to the need for greater awareness of personal health and finances. Programs emphasized understanding how wellness and financial practices affect financial stability and overall wellness. Rowan County had sixty-nine participants enter into the program. The participants were surveyed following the classes and 66% indicated they had identified money management strategies for their families, while 82% increased their fruit and vegetable consumption and daily exercise. Seventy percent of the participants reported the program was motivational and helped them to recognize health and wealth behaviors that can improve their overall quality of life. Many participants reported that the program was eye-opening and helped them to focus on how health and wealth directly influenced each other.

Rita Stewart, Lincoln County Family and Consumer Sciences agent, joined in with other counties in Extension District 4 to conduct the Small Steps to Health and Wealth Online Challenge. They hosted the program for eight weeks. In Lincoln County, participants received gym packs filled with related incentives at the beginning of the program. Rita, along with others, worked to improve the design, incentives and evaluation of the program to fit their counties needs, including sending out daily email messages to the participants. In Lincoln County, thirteen people started and completed the program. All of the participants reported plans to maintain one or more of the behavior changes made during the challenge.

Judith O’Bryan, Laurel County Family and Consumer Science agent, along with her Laurel County Extension colleagues, presented the SSHW Online Challenge in various ways to reach a more varied clientele. Outreach methods included lunch and learn lessons and mail-out lessons with computer interaction. The program discussed eight to ten behavioral changes and the participants were encouraged to select 2-3 that they were willing to try in the months following the program. Behavioral changes taught included tracking behavior, saving money, setting goals, controlling the environment, and compounding interest. Individuals were given incentives to encourage them to log their spending and take small steps toward saving money. The lunch and learn lesson series had 48 participants. From this program: 100% set one or more written financial goals; 76% decreased their household spending; 94% tracked their current spending habits; 47% compared their financial status with expert recommendations; 24% automated a financial behavior; 71% felt they had better control over their finances; and 29% put additional money in a savings account. Of the 20 participants that took part in the mail-out lessons, one participant stated, “After participating in the program I chose to use one of the techniques taught, automating our savings. As a direct result of this program, I now have been able to save over $4,400 in one year by putting into action what I learned from the program.”

These results from select counties prove that the Small Steps to Health and Wealth Online Challenge is helping to improve the quality of life for participants. Through the programs basic techniques and encouraging atmosphere, the participants can see a difference in their health, wealth, and overall life. The counties described above are just a few examples of how Extension and the programs implemented have a lasting impact on Kentucky communities.

Posted 11/14/13