DENVER — Achieving health and wellness doesn’t come cheap these days. Gym and fitness studio memberships can cost hundreds of dollars a month. Eating fruits and vegetables is often more expensive than eating junk food, and food deserts still exist in Denver. So for many people in underserved communities, living a healthy lifestyle can be unattainable.
According to Feed America, a nonprofit network of food banks nationwide, one in eight Americans will experience food insecurity; 21% of those will be Black Americans compared to just 11% of white Americans. The Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations says that globally, three billion people can't afford to eat healthy, which is defined as five servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
While these issues can’t be solved overnight, one organization in Denver hopes its small steps will turn into something bigger.
Denver organization works to make healthy living affordable
“As Maya Angelou said, ‘When you learn you teach, and when you have you give.’ I guess from that point I dedicated my life to going back and trying to make a difference,” said Sharon Thompson, the CEO and co-founder of Healthy Denver Inc., a group of community activists that help provide free health and wellness access to underserved communities.
“We don’t come to them with a solution. We go to them and get to know them and see where they have deficits and find out what they need and try to provide the resource,” Thompson said.
Healthy Denver Inc. organizes workshops across the city that focus on what the organization call the "five pillars:" financial literacy, sports and recreation, food and nutrition, health and wellness and music and art.
“That’s why we’re here is to bridge that gap and to help bring the resources to the people that don’t have them and to teach them how to sustain and live their optimal healthy lives,” Thompson said.
One of the easiest ways is to save money on gym memberships. Several times a year, Thompson's organization arranges a walk around one of Denver’s parks.
“Today we’re doing 30 minutes around City Park, we’re going to get some cardio and keep moving. It’s cold outside, I’m a southern girl, I’m from Memphis, I don’t usually go out in the cold but you have to do whatever it takes and a positive attitude makes a huge difference,” Thompson explained.
Thompson’s inspiration behind the idea for Healthy Denver Inc. came from what she saw in her own family. “I kept going back to Memphis for funerals. I know African Americans have high incidents of high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol because of diet and lack of exercise. To have that in my family brought that home for me,” she said.In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Black people are 30% more likely to die of heart disease than whites; and Black women are 60% more likely to have high blood pressure that white women.
Thompson’s wife, Rebecca Gibbs, is a financial planner and the chief operating officer of Healthy Denver Inc. “I go out and teach financial workshops and we teach budgeting and how to handle your finances,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs believes it’s about being as inclusive as possible. “Community is all of us. Community is going out and helping folks who may not understand health and understand how important it is to be healthy or folks who do understand but don’t have the resources,” Gibbs said.
Both Thompson and Gibbs teach people to live by the 80/20 rule: Eat healthy 80% of the time and eat whatever you want 20% of the time while on a budget.
Thompson said it’s about getting back to basics without making it expensive: “When you go to the grocery store, go straight to the produce section, get your main ingredients, plants and fibers and fruits and veggies and beans.”
Thompson added that everyone deserves a healthy mind, body and spirit, regardless of how much money they make or the color of their skin. “We’ve gotta support each other. We’ve gotta encourage each other. Until we help each other and raise each other up, things aren’t going to change,” she said.
Healthy Denver Inc.’s main mission is to help people in underserved communities find some stability when it comes to their physical and mental health. “You can be academically healthy or intelligent but if your body’s not in sync, you’re not going to be balanced.”
“Take this journey with us. We only have one life to live," Thompson concluded. "This is not a dress rehearsal.”
Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.