"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."

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.




Building Healthy Lifestyles:

Launch of New Program

Last week launched the start of an expanded program and new partnership for the Health & Wellness Initiative.  In collaboration with Build Inclusion and Easter Seals Cardinal Hill, the pilot program for Building Healthy Lifestyles came to life at Mary Todd Elementary.  Our Health Partners Program emphasizes holistic health and self-determination and utilizes the curriculum Healthy Lifestyles for People with Disabilities from the Institute on Disability and Development at Oregon Health & Science University. The program is a holistic wellness workshop intended to be completed by individuals with developmental disabilities and a health partner. The curriculum was initially reviewed with an expert panel and self-advocates to be updated to incorporate a partnered approach and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles.

By expanding programming opportunities, both partners benefit from health information and resources and have the added support of holding each other accountable for reaching self-identified goals. Communication between partners strengthens the success of healthy behavior change. Additionally, the UDL approach of providing health education in a variety of formats reaches the unique learning styles of diverse participants and positively affects comprehension and engagement.

This thought process is even more important for children because it is crucial to capture youth at an early stage of development to create healthy habits for the future as well as a mindset for inclusion and building important social relationships. This focus sets a strong foundation for independence, self-determination, and meaningful activity, all of which are predictors for successful transition into adulthood. This applies to children with and without disabilities.

The curriculum from Health Partners was adapted again for ages 8-12 years old and implemented with the inclusive approach in an elementary school setting. Health concepts were narrowed to focus on physical, social, and emotional health as well as building natural supports and an inclusive community for those students with disabilities. Each lesson was designed around UDL principles to include hands on activities, group discussion, and kinesthetic learning.  Self-advocate co-facilitators from Health Partners programming were also employed to facilitate programming in the school.

Students learned about good social health, being a part of an inclusive community, healthy nutrition, and importance of physical activity. Individualized health goals were created each day and students partnered together to support each other in reaching their health goals through the program and beyond.  The week finished with a community field trip to Food Chain, Smithtown, and a local Community Garden. Everyone had a lot of fun and really learned a lot!  We are looking forward to upcoming follow-up sessions with this group and are excited about doing more programming at local elementary schools.

Two boys holding magazine cut out collages with health messages
Students showing off the collages they made, to remind themselves of their health goals
Chindren reacting to stinky bowl with held noses and funny faces.
Students learned about putting healthy things, like fruit, into their bodies and into their social relationships. They also learned about putting unhealthy things into their bodies and social relationships. These faces are the reaction to the stinky unhealthy things that they put in the bowl like bullying and junk food.
Children looking into a net of fish
We visited a local Aquaponics Farm called Food Chain and learned about innovative ways to grow food in an urban area. Students got excited about where food comes from and learned many ways to access and contribute to a healthy, local, and economically diverse food system.
two girls pointing at the cherries on a tree
On a scavenger hunt at a local community garden, student partners point at the fruit from a cherry tree while learning about healthy nutrition and where to go for fresh produce.