Food is a basic necessity, but not all meals are created equal. With its mission of empowering people to make healthy choices, Live Healthy Appalachia, or LHA, is a nonprofit organization that focuses on educating Athens residents by engaging in community relationships.
According to the 2020 Athens County Health Assessment, 34.2% of Athens Residents reported not eating fruits or vegetables because they are too costly. Created in 2010, LHA has been working with educators and business owners to promote healthy eating in Athens county.
The organization has created several programs that have included participation for all members of the community. Those programs are Live Healthy Kids, The Complete Health Improvement Program and the Appalachian Health Summit.
Tom Kotso, the founder of LHA, said the organization began when the inspiration for promoting a healthy lifestyle originated.
“I had the good fortune of meeting two of the real pioneers in the revolution of eating more healthy,'' Kotso said. “Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (and) Dr. Colin Campbell, those two were working at the time and filmed a movie called Forks Over Knives. I had a chance to meet with them (by) coincidence but it really impressed me as to what they were trying to do to help people find a better way to cure chronic disease.”
”Forks Over Knives" is a documentary that explores the lives of Dr. T Colin Campbell, a nutritional biologist, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a former top surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic.
Each doctor was able to reach the same conclusion between healthy eating and chronic diseases: type 2 diabetes and heart disease can almost always be prevented by following a plant-based diet.
Heidi Fisher, the executive director of LHA, said that after working with the organization over the past three years, the experience has been particularly rewarding even while navigating through challenges associated with the pandemic.
“I think anyone who is running a nonprofit during a pandemic and also after a pandemic will tell you there are definitely many challenges associated with that, but a lot of rewards as well,” Fisher said. “We're able to help individuals in our community who are maybe struggling with their lifestyle choices or … who are maybe struggling with depression or anxiety. The challenges are there for sure, but also (it’s) very rewarding to be able to help our community and help improve the health of the individuals that we serve.”
Over the past decade, individuals living in Athens and other surrounding communities have responded well to LHA’s events and programs. Approximately 7,000 people have participated in a plethora of LHA activities and have contributed to its mission of promoting healthy dietary choices.
Syd Hutchison, the marketing coordinator for LHA, offered their personal advice on the benefits of joining LHA and committing to a healthier lifestyle.
“In my opinion, the biggest thing that you can benefit from with a healthy lifestyle is just feeling better (and) just going through your life a little more confidently,” Hutchison said. “Knowing that you're doing what's best for your body and for your spirit, and everything else doesn't matter so much.”