Inspire the World to Fitness®
With help from state and local organizations, Bev Brody is inspiring her community to make permanent lifestyle changes.
In 1999, Philadelphia was rated by Men’s Fitness magazine as the fattest city in the nation. The city’s mayor, John Street, established a special program that motivated the population to lose weight by making lifestyle changes. When IDEA member Bev Brody, who lives in Kauai, Hawaii, heard about Philadelphia’s resolve, she was inspired to do something in her own community.
Brody has been teaching group fitness since 1979 and has worked in many different areas of fitness over the years. She wanted to do something that would make a lasting change for the little island she has called home since 1993. “We couldn’t just tell people to lose weight—that wasn’t good enough,” she says. “So I thought if we provided the infrastructure and used a team approach, people would become responsible for each other. And they did!”
Kauai’s Great Weigh Out (KGWO), now in its third year, is an 8-week health and fitness challenge administered by the county of Kauai, where Brody is a project coordinator. Here’s how it works: 15 teams of 10 people commit to improving their lives through a structured program that starts in January when New Year’s resolutions are fresh. Teams weigh in and weigh out together on a large, multipurpose scale and “compete” for prizes. The two teams that lose the most weight and the two that earn the most “fit bucks” win. (If a team wins in both categories, it’s eliminated from one of them.)
Brody says the fit bucks concept was a wonderful way to incentivize participants while they learned about nutrition and exercise. Team members earned the motivating “currency” by attending educational presentations on topics ranging from “Understanding Emotions and Eating” to “[How to] Make Your Walk a Workout.” Fit bucks could also be earned by taking part in organized hikes and fitness classes, eating at least five portions of vegetables and fruit a day and bringing a guest to Weigh Out classes and activities. The first- and second-place winners received gift certificates from local vendors. Participants used their fit bucks to “purchase” items such as talking pedometers, KGWO backpacks and water bottles.
This year, the program was sponsored by the Kauai mayor’s office and partial- ly funded by Start.Living.Healthy., the Hawaii Department of Health’s public education campaign, which is funded through tobacco settlement money. This enabled Brody and other organizers to keep the cost to participants low. Each member paid only $5 to join. Since space was limited and demand was high, coordinators started a sister project called “Me Too!” for anyone who wanted to follow along. “Me Too!” members earned points instead of fit bucks and also won prizes.
The 2004 event culminated in a gala affair where more than 300 people gathered to celebrate their success. Collectively, the teams lost more than 650 pounds and earned more than 49,000 fit bucks. “All of the hours spent putting this program together to inspire our part of the world to fitness seemed so worthwhile,” Brody says.
Brody attributes the program’s success to timing (New Year’s), motivation (fit bucks), low cost, team accountability, community partnerships and results. “When people’s clothes start fitting looser, they get excited,” she says.
The participants have high praise for the event. Anna Velasco has struggled with her weight for most of her life. KGWO helped change her entire approach to eating and exercise. “Because I was on a team and we were earning fit bucks, I felt I needed to attend as many classes as I could to support my team,” Velasco says. “The seminars were so informative, and they changed my life. I now have a better understanding of how food affects my body, and exercise is a part of my life. I lost 60 pounds and have maintained that weight for almost a year.”
Other participants saw immediate health benefits. “I went to the doctor and found out I had lost 8 pounds,” says Wallis K. Fernandes. “My cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose level are all down. In fact, the doctor said I was perfect. It was the best appointment I’ve ever had, and the doctor was so happy for me. He said to keep doing what I’m doing because it’s obviously working. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without all the meetings, encouragement and support.”
Results like these are what Brody lives for. “I first became a fitness professional because it was fun,” she says. “I loved to put the music on and jump around and get my workout in for the day. It was all about me. But now it’s all about community and showing people how they can feel good about themselves. It’s about empowering them to live healthier lives for themselves, their families and their loved ones. It’s about educating people and showing them that fitness can be fun.”