Jane Busch, a life-long resident of Cross Plains, Wisconsin, is working to make her community healthier. Through a grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, Jane and the LIFE (Lifestyle Initiative for Fitness Empowerment) Foundation, a grassroots nonprofit organization in Cross Plains, and academic partner Daniel Jarzemsky, MD, clinical associate professor, Department of Family Medicine and physician at the UW Health Cross Plains Clinic, are working to improve nutrition, decrease obesity and increase physical activity for members of their rural community.

The group received its first grant from the Partnership Program in 2013. In 2015 it received a two-year, $50,000 Community Opportunity Grant, which it is now using to implement two key strategies to improve health in Cross Plains.

Jane Busch
Jane Busch

The Empower Social Support strategy is comprised of the Empower program and a Step Up pedometer walking club. The Empower Program is a healthy lifestyle program within a social support network that includes fitness evaluation, weight management monitoring, educational seminars, fitness classes, nutritional programs, group support and post-program medical evaluation. It includes Empower Adults, Empower Kids and Empower Employees.

To Jane’s delight, the first Empower Adults session surpassed its enrollment goal. Currently, 27 participants - the maximum classroom capacity - share a goal of losing weight and adopting a healthier lifestyle. In this session, most participants have body mass indexes (BMIs) ranging between 30 and 59. The current value recommendations suggest that a BMI from 25 to 30 may indicate the person is overweight, and a BMI of 30 or higher may indicate the person is obese.

The biweekly support group includes weigh-ins, waist circumference measurements, small group discussions and food and activity journals. The participants also attend large group presentations by psychologists, doctors, dieticians and fitness experts. In the first four weeks, the group members collectively lost 145 pounds and 84 inches off their waists.

“I’m so proud of them,” said Jane. “They are taking exercise classes, walking treadmills, practicing portion control and using food calorie apps!”

The project also aims to increase physical activity. “We have such a beautiful, scenic community,” said Jane, “and we’d like to see people take advantage of that.”

The Step Up walking program, designed for all ages and abilities, is hoping to do just that. Participants use a weekly walking log and pedometer and meet for a weekly group walk. Their goal is to increase their weekly step average by 10 percent each week for eight weeks. They enjoy historical walks, mindfulness walks as well as scenic walks on the Conservancy and Ice Age Trails.

Through the programs, participants have gained better control over their diabetes, lost weight, reduced their BMIs and blood pressure and for many, improved their quality of life. Empower Kids and Empower Employees will take place later this year and next year.

The project also aims to help improve nutrition in Cross Plains. The Gardens Grow strategy is creating home, community, childcare and senior gardens to enable better access to fruit and vegetables. Home gardeners will have the opportunity to receive tips from master gardeners and a “Seed Your Garden” promotion provides cucumber and lettuce seeds to residents who sign up for the program’s newsletter.

The LIFE Community Gardens is providing 30 garden plots at a local park, and the group is working with a local child care and senior center to pilot gardens at those locations. The senior center garden will feature raised beds at wheel chair and standing height to provide easier access for the seniors. The child care garden program will incorporate a “Read It, Grow It, Eat It” theme by working on a reading project with the local library and working with a dietician to create healthy classroom snacks from the garden.

The LIFE Foundation is comprised of community leaders in health care, government, law enforcement, schools, fitness and nutrition businesses, and people like Jane, who are passionately committed to building and sustaining a healthy community.

“I’m especially proud of the support the village has given us,” said Jane. “It’s brought us together with a true sense of community.”