YMCA of Metro Atlanta Leads the Nation with Top Intervention Programs Towards Empowering Healthy Living

Staff Report From Metro Atlanta CEO

Friday, August 10th, 2018

The YMCA of Metro Atlanta is one of the nation’s foremost leaders in the promotion and development of wellness programs designed to help Empower Healthy Living in the community. According to the National Cancer Institute & the National Institutes of Health, the YMCA of Metro Atlanta has the most program listings (5) than any other organization in the United States in the areas of addressing physical activity, nutrition and obesity. This includes some of the nation’s leading academic institutions such as Harvard and Stanford Universities.
The outcome of more than 150 peer-reviewed studies over the past 16 years has resulted in the creation of the following YMCA research-to-practice wellness programs that demonstrate proven results: THE COACH APPROACH, Start For Life, Youth Fit 4 Life and Weight Loss For Life. These Research-Tested Intervention Programs are listed with the NCI - National Institutes of Health five times - making the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, the only organization with this many program listings. Listings can be found by visiting https://rtips.cancer.gov/rtips.
An increased level of commitment to advancing large-scale community health change by the Metro Atlanta YMCA, began in earnest in 2000 when James Annesi, Ph.D. was hired to lead the Association’s Wellness Research and Evaluation efforts. This marked the first time in the United States that a YMCA Association had employed a full-time behavioral researcher.
“Many in the community may still think of the Y as a “swim & gym,” but we are a serious health-impact organization with a respected, national reputation for our wellness research and development,” said Kristin McEwen, Sr. Vice President of Operations for the YMCA of Metro Atlanta.
A strong research program supports the development and validation of each program’s protocol. Methods are designed to make their implementation practical, economical and reliable in community settings such as the YMCA. These initiatives focus on health behavior change theory and methods applied to exercise adherence, weight management and the effects of physical activity on mental health, self-image and other quality of life factors.

"We must reject the urge to keep trying to simply educate people on the need to be more physically active or present them with 'quick-fix' solutions," said Jim Annesi, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the YMCA of Metro Atlanta. "We are seeing impressive progress from activating community-based, supportive environments which empower all by enabling their abilities to resist a sedentary lifestyle. Building the habit of regular physical activity and other healthful behaviors is, and will remain, the primary focus of our evidence-based programming."

Each of the curricula were built around the same basic health behavior-change paradigm where individuals learn to set goals, track incremental progress, and create a logical plan-of-action. Instruction and practice in specific self-management skills (e.g. restructuring unproductive self-talk), along with social support, reinforce progress and complete this effective behavior-change model. It is based on empowering individuals to cope with life’s barriers (both perceived and actual) to being physically active and eating in a healthy manner.
All four programs are included for all with a YMCA facility membership or participation in our Y Afterschool or Y Early Learning programming. They are targeted to the following populations:

·         THE COACH APPROACH – Adults (formerly sedentary and adaptations for adolescents with obesity)

·         Start For Life – Children ages 3-5 years

·         Youth Fit 4 Life – Children ages 5-12 years

·         Weight Loss For Life – Adults (with BMI at or over 30)

Results matter. The research-based programs for adult wellness and childhood activity are proving successful in YMCAs across the country and are being implemented in the United Kingdom, Italy and other countries under Annesi’s direction. All four of these programs demonstrate success among participants. Individual program results can be seen in the attached overview attached, entitled: YMCA Wellness Research & Development Program.
“Through these highly researched programs and evidence-based intervention protocols, Dr. Annesi’s work at the YMCA has had a positive impact in (at least) hundreds of fitness instructors and (at least) thousands of participants worldwide,” said Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D. and Professor of Exercise Science at Quincy College in Massachusetts. “He is a remarkable scholar, innovator, change agent whose main purpose is to make a positive difference in the lives of people; an objective he has clearly achieved through this amazing work.”
Local companies and governments are turning to the YMCA for help with their inactivity epidemic. THE COACH APPROACH program in particular engages currently inactive employees in physical activity, thereby:

·         Reducing hospitalization, absenteeism, fatigue, stress, negative mood, number of days off work due to worker’s compensation, and days lost to sick time; and

·         Increasing employee productivity, recruitment, retention, positive image and bond with employer.
Likewise, children in the programs show favorable physiological, behavioral and psychological changes. A significant improvement is seen on psychological measures consistent with improved academic performance.
“Combining clinical care and Dr. Annesi’s research efforts at the YMCA has created a partnership that continues to grow,” said Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director of Children’s Wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Through our involvement in the development of Youth Fit 4 Life, together, we create and develop programs that truly help families struggling with weight issues.”
The YMCA has always valued collaboration with community and governmental partners and wishes to thank the following for their efforts related to the testing and development of these four programs:

·         Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia,

·         Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

·         Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,

·         Kaiser Permanente of Georgia,

·         Kennesaw State University,

·         The United States Department of Education,

·         The United States Department of Health & Human Services, and the

·         Thrivent Foundation.
“It has been a pleasure to work with Dr. Annesi, an internationally renowned expert in exercise adherence and sustained weight loss,” said Kandice Porter, Ph.D., MCHES, Chair of the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education at Kennesaw State University. “Partnering with the YMCA in this important research has invigorated research efforts within our faculty and students.”