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Let’s Walk Florida to address community wellness for all

Let’s Walk Florida will stretch statewide in May to address community wellness across diverse communities. The free, virtual UF/IFAS Extension program helps Floridians achieve their health and wellness goals through physical activity.

Let’s Walk Florida was originally scheduled to roll out across the state in January 2021.

“We found the emerging research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding increased COVID-19 mortality risk for those with chronic diseases was hard to ignore,” LaToya O’Neal, UF/IFAS Extension specialist and Let’s Walk Florida program director said.

“Helping Floridians lower their risk of chronic disease is beneficial for citizens and our state,” O’Neal said. “The benefits of being healthy and well are numerous and unfortunately so are the families, youth, and communities that are impacted by preventable diseases. It is important that Floridians have access to educational programs that inform them of the benefits of being active and how we can reduce our risk of developing chronic diseases.”

One of the primary aims of this educational outreach program is to encourage program participants to increase their physical activity levels to meet or exceed the minimum guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. The program also focuses on four components of wellness, emotional and physical wellbeing, weight management, and chronic disease prevention and management.

To adapt to the current pandemic, the program has gone completely virtual and instead of meeting in groups to walk, encourages participants adhere to physical distancing and other CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Additionally, more chronic disease prevention and management content was added to the program.

Low levels of physical activity are a risk factor for many chronic diseases and obesity. According to the Florida Department of Health, 57% of Floridians ages 20 years and older are inactive or insufficiently physically active. Overall, about 24% of Americans are physically inactive, meaning they did not engage in any leisure-time physical activity during the reporting period, and Florida ranks number 13 with a physical inactivity rate of 26.8%, according to the CDC.

“Moreover, physical inactivity rates vary by racial and ethnic groups with the rate being 31.7% among Hispanics, 30.3% among non-Hispanic blacks, and 23.4% among non-Hispanic whites,” O’Neal said. “The health and economic burden associated with chronic diseases and associated health disparities are substantial considering the costs – the loss of lives due to premature death and healthcare expenditures.”

CAFÉ Latino, a coalition of Florida faculty and Extension professionals for Latinx Communities, partnered with Let’s Walk Florida to adapt the curriculum and materials for minority audiences. With approximately five million Latinos in Florida, the program was translated for Spanish-speaking audiences.

“Latinx and other minority communities face significant health disparities and health care access issues across the country,” John Diaz, CAFÉ Latino president and UF/IFAS Extension specialist said. “I thought there would be a great opportunity to connect the two efforts. Under the leadership of many UF/IFAS Extension professionals, we will leverage the statewide CAFÉ Latino network to ensure the program is culturally relevant and responsive to the needs of the Latinx communities.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on the tremendous health disparities that exist among minority communities that has resulted in disproportionate levels of infection and death,” Diaz said. “There is a need for programs for Spanish-speaking communities to stay active and healthy amidst the concerns over the coronavirus and the mandate for social distancing. Relatedly, there was a need for the program to understand the social needs of the Latinx and develop a strategy that builds social connections, virtually.”

Let’s Walk Florida registration is open now. Program start dates vary by county and the program is 10-weeks long.

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