"The health and wellness initiative at the Human Development Institute works to raise awareness of health disparities, while helping people with disabilities and their friends and family to stay healthy and take charge in their lifestyle choices. This website provides information on how to effectively make healthier decisions, along with highlights from current statewide health initiatives. Helpful resources include lessons, videos, activities, and tips on running effective health promotion programming for people with a variety of backgrounds, interests and needs."

Spreading CHEER Across Kentucky with Inclusive Health Programming

Hip Hip Hooray for the Kentucky CHEER Project!

Inclusion. Health Education. Collaborative partners. Disability friendly and accessible resources.   These are the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to addressing the health disparities experienced by individuals with disabilities.  The health & wellness initiative at the Human Development Institute, (HDI) in partnership with the Kentucky Department Behavioral Health, Development and Intellectual Disabilities, received a highly competitive award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address such disparities.  Project CHEER (Community Health Education and Exercise Resources) will partner with departments across the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Department of Public Health and more, in order to develop nutrition and healthy lifestyle based educational programs. These educational programs will include; adapted exercise programs promoting increased physical activity and community partnerships promoting healthy lifestyle choices for all Kentuckians, that can then be shared with a broader audience across the nation for any program looking to implement inclusive health programming.

The program will significantly expand the implementation of the HealthMatters curriculum under HDI’s existing Health and Wellness Initiative that has been serving people with disabilities in Kentucky since 2014.

“HDI is pleased to be part of this innovative and much needed project,” said HDI Executive Director Kathy Sheppard-Jones. “We recognize the significant health challenges faced by Kentuckians, and particularly for people with mobility or cognitive limitations. We look forward to enhancing partnerships throughout the state and providing enhanced skills and knowledge that lead to healthier lifestyles across the Commonwealth!”

“The overall health of Kentuckians with disabilities is an important issue that must be addressed,” said Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson in a news release. “We must work to erase physical activity barriers that are prohibiting individuals with disabilities from leading full, active lives and increase access to healthy food in our communities. If we are truly committed to moving Kentucky forward, we must address the health of our state — and for all Kentuckians.”

Be on the lookout in the coming months for more information and updated resources for Project CHEER to be housed right here on wellness4ky.org!

The confetti has settled at 2017 is officially in full swing. Many of us begin each new year with great intentions of keeping resolutions aimed at creating better lives for ourselves through healthy habits. Due to busy schedules, balancing commitments, and a myriad of other reasons it should come as no surprise that many people fall short of their goals. If you and your family are striving to eat better and improve your nutrition this year, you can be successful with a little determination and the help of MyPlate, MyWins. You can do it!

MyPlate, MyWins is a resource from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which focuses on providing individuals with practical solutions for healthy eating. Because we are all different, it allows you to choose which tools best fit with your lifestyle. Simple strategies are used such as meal planning, goal setting, and celebrating small victories. This video featuring real families who have taken the leap to become healthier can provide some inspiration. It’s never too late to start working towards better nutrition. Take a moment to check it out, and you may find that your resolution turns into small lifestyle changes that have a big impact on your health!

A Fresh Perspective

Teaming Up With Community Organizations to Launch "Building Healthy Lifestyles" Program

Establishing good health habits at an early age is crucial. Building Healthy Lifestyles is the newest program of engagement to come out of the Health & Wellness Initiate at the Human Development Institute which captures students in third through fifth grade to develop positive habits for physical, emotional, and social health. This focus sets a strong foundation for independence, self-determination, and meaningful activity, all of which are predictors for successful transition into adulthood. The Health Partners curriculum was adapted to be appropriate for youth ages 8-12 to be delivered in an inclusive environment in which peers with and without disabilities participate. Interactive activities laced with proven strategies get students thinking about their health and ways they can improve across all areas.

dsc02708Building Healthy Lifestyles was piloted at Mary Todd Elementary in Lexington, Kentucky during July of 2016. With the help of Build Inclusion Inc. and Easter Seals Cardinal Hill, 16 students participated in the holistic health program which uses scenario based learning, physical activity, and visual representations to translate classroom learning into real-life application. Additional partnerships included Allegro Dance, and the University of Kentucky Nutrition Department.

Megan Jaspersen is the primary facilitator of Building Healthy Lifestyles. “Partnerships such as these are great. It not only provides program sustainability, but it is also beneficial for all parties involved. UK students are given a great service-learning opportunity to interact with a population they may not have exposure to otherwise, and community partnerships strengthen what we are doing,” Jaspersen said. “To see youth get excited about being healthy is really fun.”

Three goals were created by each student to address physical, social, and emotional health, and follow up meetings occurred as part of the curriculum to track progress and provide additional resources. For our final meeting at Mary Todd Elementary this November we partnered with UK Nutrition students Catherine Broton and Tina Mousa, and we invited students and parents for an evening of nutrition education and fun.  The two areas of focus for the evening included how to make healthy snacking fun and how to eat healthy on a budget.

Students and parents were reminded of the Choose MyPlate model for healthy eating prior to completing a “build your own meal” activity. Catherine and Tina lead the group in discussion of ways to make eating healthy fun such as turning fruits and vegetable snacks into animal shapes. This was followed by nutrition games such as Crack the Secret Code and MyPlate Crosswords. These resources, along with many other excellent nutrition games and teaching tools from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service can be found at http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/resource-library.


Annette Jett, Founder and Executive Director of Build Inclusion Inc., provided food and a lesson to the group on how to eat healthy on a budget.  Participants and their families enjoyed baked potatoes, a salad bar, and a build-your-own soup station. All ingredients for the meal, including various vegetables, shredded chicken, broth, and potatoes, are relatively affordable and reheat well when saved as left-overs. She suggested that allowing youth to help make dinner gives them choices and empowers them to try new things.

So whether you are concerned about your food budget or not, get in the kitchen with family or friends, get creative, and make healthy eating fun!

Better Together

Practicing good health habits is easier and more fun with two!

No matter how healthy you are, it is likely that there is room for improvement in some area of your life. Perhaps you eat very healthy, but you struggle to find the time to exercise. Maybe you have a great grasp on how to deal with your feelings, but you lack positive relationships in your life and have a hard time with your social health. Whatever piece of your health you need to improve, our Health Partners groups continue to prove that success is more likely with the support of a partner.

Research shows that lifestyle changes happen more readily and last longer if individuals have a support person to encourage them in their changes. (Reed, 2013) The Health Partners project utilizes the Healthy Lifestyles curriculum that focuses on holistic health programming for individuals with disabilities. In order to make it accessible for everyone and to include partners, we were able to adapt it for a partnered dyad approach. This means that one individual with a disability and one individual without a disability go through the program together.

This approach works for several reasons, and many activities can be easily adapted. Most importantly, the dyad approach is evidence based. Macdonald (2010) reports that a successful health promotion programming approach must recognize the important influence of supports, whether natural or paid, for achieving and sustaining healthy behavior changes. Not only does having a support person build in accountability, but it also means that each individual has someone to motivate and encourage them on their journey to becoming healthy.

There are various ways to include a partner in health and wellness programming. Some of the specific strategies we used as recommended by our expert panel when adapting the curriculum are listed below. Note that some of the links refer to students of classroom age, but the concepts can apply to adapting curriculum for any age. So get the creative juices flowing, grab a partner, and get moving towards a healthier you!

  • Think, pair, share method – This allows participants to think about a concept, discuss it with their partner, and then share their ideas with each other and the larger group. To encourage active listening, you can ask partners to share their partner’s ideas rather than their own.
  • Scenario based learning – There is no better way to ensure that participants are grasping an idea than to have them practice using a real-life scenario. Acting out scenarios with a partner will make skills more transferable for practical use.
  • Partner physical activity – It’s easy to see why being physically active can be great with a partner. Resistance bands are just one way to make exercising in pairs fun.
  • Brainstorming and goal setting support – By working together to create SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time based) goals, both partners will have a good idea of what kind of support the other needs and can assist each other along the way.


Macdonald, C. M. (2011). Sustainability of health promotion for people with learning disabilities. Nursing Standard, 25(22), 42-47.

Reed, R. G., Butler, E. A., & Kenny, D. A. (2013). Dyadic models for the study of health. Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 7(4). 228-245.

Health and Wellness Initiative Airs on NPR

Discussing Health and Disability

The Health and Wellness Initiative at UK’s Human Development Institute aims to serve individuals with a variety of backgrounds, interests and needs in creating a future which gives them the tools needed to learn about and advocate for their own health, and achieve a more active, empowered future. As we continue to strive for excellence in these areas, it is good to be reminded of why this work is so important. Recently, Lindsey Mullis and Megan Jaspersen had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Greg Davis of NPR, forensic pathologist with UK HealthCare, about health and disability.

Along with information about the Health Partners program, listeners were educated on the grave health disparities that exist for individuals with disabilities. They tend to have significantly poorer health than the general population. In Kentucky, 29.2 percent of adults identify as having a disability verses 22 percent nationally. Over 70 percent of Kentuckians with a disability are overweight or obese, and less than 20 percent are engaging in at least 30 minutes of physical activity three or more days per week according to the most recent report.

Sustainable change will only occur when people are empowered to take control of their own health choices which is why it is important to focus on improving lifelong opportunities and services not only for individuals with disabilities, but also their families and communities. If you are interested in more information on Health Partners coming to your community, visit our website by clicking on the Health Partners tab.

This interview was aired on WUKY- NPR Rocks @91.3 on August 10th, 2016. Click below to listen to the full interview.