“Sixty-eight percent of Olmsted County residents are overweight or obese. …And twenty-eight percent of Olmsted County residents have two or more chronic conditions. And we’re considered one of the healthiest counties in Minnesota,” explained Dr. Jengyu Lai, Chief Manger of the Rochester Clinic.
Treatment of chronic disease in the United States accounts for eighty-six percent of healthcare costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Perhaps instead of prescribing more medications to relieve American’s health symptoms, we should take a step back and examine the root cause of these problems. Could a portion of these costs be eliminated by simple lifestyle changes?
Meiping Liu believes this is possible.
Liu- Founder of Lotus Health Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Rochester Clinic - thinks that each person has a responsibility to maintain their own health, which she says can help decrease dependency on medications and remove some pressure on today’s bloated healthcare system.
Lai, Lui, and the team of health care providers at Rochester Clinic aim to perpetuate this “hope of self-care” in their seven-year-old, community-based medical practice. Clinic staff believe in lifestyle medicine, a holistic approach with an emphasis on prevention wellness.
The best way to fulfill this mission for self-care, Lai explained, was to provide lifestyle medicine education within the community. Just last year, Lotus Health Foundation emerged to promote healthy living, collaborate with like-minded organizations, and receive funds to educate the community about lifestyle medicine.
The Complete Health Improvement Program, or CHIP, is one significant educational push made by Lotus Health Foundation to promote wellness in Rochester.
This evidence-based, comprehensive wellness improvement program was developed by Dr. Hans Diehl in 1988 and is one of the few community-focused lifestyle medicine programs with a strong history of success. The 30-year initiative has helped 80,000 people and is the focus of more than twenty-nine scientific review papers.
Healthy behaviors, Liu explained, are not learned in a single day. Instead, CHIP teaches lifestyle habits- such as exercise and stress management- in a twelve-week program that heavily relies on peer support. Guest speakers, like local dieticians or physicians, are also invited to select classes.
“[CHIP participants] always learn something at each session. And we have fun,” said Liu.
Healthy meal prep is a major focus of CHIP. “We believe in the meal. The food, really is the key part. Because a lot of people want to make changes, but they don’t know how to cook!” explained Liu. She said people often have no idea how to begin preparing their own wholesome meals and have been overwhelmed by confusing information about “healthy” foods or weight loss products.
“Weight loss doesn’t mean anything! You can have a weight loss, but you’re still not healthy,” she said.
Liu tells her “CHIPers” they don’t need to beat themselves up on the treadmill to work toward wellness. She explains that many people are in pain or are overweight and this method just causes them to give up. CHIP, instead, has no focus on weight loss, calorie counting, or portion control. The program promotes a whole-food, plant-based diet with less sugar, less oil, and less salt (SOS) where “you eat until you’re full. You eat more, weigh less,” Liu explained.
Liu first learned about CHIP at a lifestyle medicine conference in 2014 and became a CHIP certified instructor to implement the program among the Rochester Clinic staff. The first Rochester community CHIP class took place in 2015 at Hy-vee Barlow. Last fall, the class outgrew that space and moved community sessions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Over the course of the twelve-week CHIP program, Liu says she can see people’s personalities open as the group collectively pursues wellness. “The bonding is so valuable. They find they are not alone,” she explained. She said that graduation from the program does not mean that “CHIPers” will be 100% consistent with a healthy lifestyle. But when they get off track, they now have the training and education to work back toward wellness.
CHIP is not only about the health of the individual. It’s for the whole community. When you educate one person about healthy living, that person can implement wellness concepts to their entire family.
“CHIPers” still eat at restaurants. Liu explains CHIP graduates often loose the desire to order foods they normally would have before the program. Instead, they are looking for healthier options. Liu has personally worked with Rochester restaurants to get CHIP meals on their menus, even if it’s just for one, special day. “When you have one of these events, people take notice,” she explained.
Lotus Health Foundation also held their very first weeklong Community Health Fair this April to celebrate graduation of both a community and UMR student group of participants from the CHIP program. The banquet event had 200 attendees and featured CHIP founder Dr. Diehl and Tony Buettner of Blue Zones as speakers. Liu explained that community-wide events like these are the “fastest way and a fun way to get more people involved” in lifestyle medicine.
CHIP and Lotus Health Foundation are passions for Liu. She is the main contact for CHIP registration and personally sits down and speaks with each participant before the program starts. She’s the one going out and seeking involvement from local restaurants, schools, and the Rochester community. She’s the one who gets deeply attached to each group of her “CHIPers”. Liu is one of the selfless few who pursue a business with a small profit margin because she cares so deeply about the community and about the people seeking to making themselves better.
Both Rochester Clinic and Lotus Health Foundation are small and still relatively new in the community’s eyes. Now they are tasked to raise brand awareness and form lasting bonds within Rochester.
“We want to partner with the other organizations in the community. We want support from the community. We want them to know our mission and what we can do to help the community in general,” Liu explained.
Lotus Health Foundation is seeking funding sources who support their mission so they can provide more lifestyle medicine programming in the community and offer CHIP free to participants without the financial resources.