It’s not typical to see your doctor dancing with you on a Zoom workout to a funky hip-hop beat. Patients enjoyed this experience thanks to the CHIP program, an interactive fitness program created by Community Health of South Florida, Inc. (CHI) residents Dr. Arshely Fleuristal and Dr. Rivera Santana.
Community Health Initiative Project (CHIP), is a program that targets obesity and nutrition. Dr. Fleuristal and Dr. Santana noticed that these issues heavily affected individuals of Black and Hispanic backgrounds.
Dr. Santana grew up in Puerto Rico and witnessed how obesity and poor eating habits affected her family members. She believed that she would have the same health issues if she did not make necessary changes to her lifestyle.
“I could continue this cycle, or I could try to change,” said Dr. Santana.
Dr. Fleuristal added how a reluctance to change lifestyle habits is a key factor in poor health among some of her patients.
“Food and community are huge aspects of their lives, so it is difficult for them to shift from that pattern,” said Dr. Fleuristal.
In May 2021, Dr. Santana and Dr. Fleuristal were awarded the Resident Service Cares Award and a grant by The American Academy of Family Physicians. The program began in September 2021 and had a focus group of African American and Hispanic women. Drs. Santana and Fleuristal selected this group as data showed that women in Miami-Dade County were 67% more obese than men.
They concluded that a new approach to tackling these concerns would be best. They used motivational techniques to help change the mindsets of the 40 women who were selected for this program.
“Simply telling our patients what to do, does not work,” said Dr. Fleuristal. “Giving them the autonomy on how they want to move forward in their health journey is beneficial.” said Dr. Fleuristal.
The 10-month program included free full access to a nutritionist, an online gym membership, a WhatsApp group chat with other patients, and workout equipment. They also attended an in-person visit with their doctor once a month where they addressed concerns they may have had.
“Accessibility to a healthy lifestyle should not be based on how much money you have,” said Dr. Santana.
By the end of the program in June 2022, there was an 82% increase in physical activity among patients and a 93% increase in healthier eating habits. Patients reported significant changes in their appearance and overall wellbeing.
Janet Reyes joined the program to lose weight because she did not know where to begin in her journey. She began eating smaller portions and Dr. Santana checked in with her consistently to keep her on track.
“I started to eat more vegetables and more importantly, I realized that this is a lifestyle change not just a fad diet,” said Dr. Reyes.
Drs. Fleuristal and Dr. Santana are hopeful that the CHIP program will evolve at CHI. They envision having a behavioral health component added to the program where patients will be able to seek emotional support from CHI therapists during the process.
“We have the power to change lives by encouraging wellness and preventative care,” said Dr. Fleuristal.