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Athens Nonprofit Serves Up Healthy Lifestyle Info

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Before Tom and Barbara Kostohryz watched the documentary Forks Over Knives, they consumed a typical Western diet, one high in processed foods with an abundance of meat and dairy products. That changed after seeing the 2011 documentary that promotes a less processed, plant-based diet to reduce and reverse the rate at which people are being diagnosed with today’s chronic diseases.

They also met the two main researchers highlighted in the film: Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional scientist at Cornell University; and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a top surgeon and head of the Breast Cancer Task Force at the Cleveland Clinic. Both healthcare professionals were doing concurrent but separate research about the health effects of animal-based diets consumed by cultures across the globe.

The Kostohryz’s were sold on the film’s message and made the switch to a whole foods, plant-based diet. After a short amount of time, their health improved significantly, Tom Kostohryz said.

“I was able to stop taking medicine for high cholesterol and high blood pressure after switching to a plant-based diet,” he added.

The couple was so taken with the health benefits they experienced they decided to launch a movement to promote the documentary’s “food as medicine” message. From this inspiration, the grassroots, non-profit organization Live Healthy Appalachia was born.

Live Healthy Appalachia’s mission is to “improve the health and well-being in the Appalachian region through education, outreach, and advocacy emphasizing nutrition and other lifestyle choices,” according to their website.

The organization put on its first annual Health Summit to Prevent and Reverse Chronic Disease in the Appalachian Region in 2011. In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, a grant from the Sugar Bush Foundation funded a full-time executive director for Live Healthy Appalachia. Additional support and funding since then has been received from OU’s College of Health Sciences and Professions, The Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, the City of Athens, Athens County, the Athens City-County Health Department, O’Bleness OhioHealth, The Athens Foundation, and many other funders.

The Sugar Bush Foundation works with Ohio University and southeast Ohio regional non-profit groups on projects that improve the quality of life in Appalachian Ohio by encouraging civic engagement and by fostering environmental and socioeconomic development, according to their website.

The decision to fund this project was an easy one, said Sugar Bush Foundation co-founders and current Foundation board members Don Flournoy and Mary Anne Flournoy, who received her PhD from The Patton College of Education in 1995.

“The Sugar Bush Foundation took an interest in funding Live Healthy Appalachia when our Board was made aware of the need to address the growing problem of obesity and diabetes in southeast Ohio,” the couple said via email. “Our Foundation partnered with the project to help launch a community-wide education program based on the advocacy of a plant-based diet. Its promotional messages and implementation network have realized remarkable success in reaching out to citizens, employers, local restaurants and the public schools, as well as Ohio University.”

Live Healthy Appalachia food
Photo: Live Healthy Appalachia

Live Healthy Appalachia Executive Director Sherri Oliver said the non-profit’s programs assists anyone in the region seeking a healthy lifestyle choice.

“Live Healthy Appalachia’s programs serve everyone, from the just curious to the community members who get involved based on their doctor’s recommendation,” she said. OU alumna Oliver received her bachelor’s degree in political science in 2006 and her master’s degree in public administration in 2014.

Live Healthy Appalachia creates and carries out programs that promote healthy diets and healthy lifestyles for both adults and K-12 students in the region. Programs for adults include Cooking Coaches, the Complete Health Improvement Program or CHIP and the Appalachian Health Summit. Programs for students include Live Healthy Kids and Healthy Kids. Live Health Kids received additional support in March from the Kasich-Taylor New Day inauguration committee, which also funded other charities in the state that are committed to the health and wellness of Ohio’s children.

Live Healthy Appalachia also promotes active lifestyles and host events like the Walk with A Doc, My First 5K Training and the Pumpkin Roll and Stroll in the fall.

For Oliver, Live Healthy Appalachia is also about access to and information about whole foods grown in the region. The non-profit highlights the advantage the local food movement offers to the community and how people can harness it for better health.

“It’s how we used to do things,” she said, referring to a time in Athens County’s not so distant past when planting and harvesting a vegetable garden was the norm.

Barbara Kostohryz says she’s inspired by the change people realize when they switch to this healthier diet and healthier lifestyle.

“I get to meet people whose lives have been completely transformed by choosing a whole foods diet and adopting healthier lifestyle habits. “Every time we hear a success story because of CHIP or other LHA programs, it encourages us to keep going,” she said. “LHA is making a difference in our community.”

Tom Kostohryz, who received his bachelor’s degree in 1972 in biological sciences, received another bachelor’s degree in education in 1974 and received his master’s degree in environmental studies in 1977. He also serves on the Ohio University Foundation Board. Barbara Kostohryz, a designer and artist, is a two-time alumna of Ohio University and received her bachelor’s degree in physical education from The Patton College of Education in 1974 and her master’s degree in the same field also from the college in 1978.