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The outstanding partnership that has driven the YCHANGe program has been recognised nationally by the Heart Foundation.

The foundation had initially declared Yarriambiack Shire winner of the state award in Recognising Healthy Communities at its Local Government Awards. But when Heart Foundation Victoria Active Communities coordinator Lisa Speirs came to Warracknabeal to present the award, she announced the shire had won the national award.

For YCHANGe’s engineer Jill Whelan the announcement was the best news possible. The Deakin University research fellow has headed the project with colleague Dr Penny Love from day one and was over the moon with the announcement.

“I was excited about winning the state award but to know we are recognised nationally just makes me so proud for what we have achieved as a partnership,” Jill said.

“I’m shocked but I couldn’t be happier,” she said.

“Everyone has worked hard to build a healthy Yarriambiack community and we are starting to see significant changes.”

Jill said she was proud of the award recognition.

“But I’m also proud to have helped make the healthy choice the easier choice for Yarriambiack Shire residents,” she said.

“I’m particularly proud of the work that Rural Northwest Health has done in showing initiative and acting by example by introducing healthy catering and working with Woodbine to implement the traffic light system in the YarriYak Café.

“The Rural Northwest Health team is leading by example because they are not just saying what should be done – they are doing it.”

Jill said she particularly wanted to thank Rural Northwest Health’s acting CEO Jo Martin because she was the catalyst behind getting the program started.

“If Jo hadn’t emailed Deakin University to see if we could do anything, YCHANGe most likely would never have happened,” she said.

“It was Jo’s email that started the discussion between Deakin University and Rural Northwest Health which led to the development of the project.”

The Victorian Population Health Survey 2012 highlighted the poor health profile of residents in Yarriambiack Shire. The shire experienced the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity and the highest per capita sugar-sweetened beverage consumption of any shire in Victoria.

It was these statistics that stirred Jo Martin to email Deakin University. Ms Speirs said Yarriambiack Shire Council won the award due to their excellent initiatives in tackling the factors behind unhealthy weight in the Shire.

“The Council’s community driven approach to improve the healthy eating options in the Shire has supported people in making healthy choices to reduce their risk of heart disease and heart problems,” Ms Speirs said.

“These awards are important because they recognise the outstanding achievements of local governments in the continuing fight against heart disease – the single biggest killer in Victoria.”

Jill said she was proud of how the community had embraced YCHANGe.

“I feel happy when I visit the shire because people have always been very welcoming,” Jill said.

“Overall the people want to be healthier and it’s not a case of working one on one with them,” she said.

“It’s about shaping the environment.”

YCHANGe achievements to date have included:

  • Changes to catering provided at Council and Rural Northwest Health meetings
  • Establishment of YarriYak café at Rural Northwest Health’s Warracknabeal campus. The cafe sells 80% ‘green’ healthy coded items.
  • A re-write of the kinder nutrition and active play policy, together with additional training and resources for parents and teachers
  • Improving school canteen menu options
  • Establishment of more Heart Foundation Walking groups and;
  • A regular newspaper column across multiple outlets to raise awareness.

Jill thanked the Heart Foundation for the award and asked shire residents to follow YCHANGe on Facebook to learn more about a healthier lifestyle.

  • YCHANGe is a collaboration between Yarriambiack Shire Council, Rural Northwest Health, West Wimmera Health Services and Deakin University seeking to identify and address the local determinants of unhealthy weight in the Shire.

CAPTION: Celebrating the win are from left, back row, Deakin University researcher Lynne Miller, RNH Acting CEO and YCHANGe instigator Jo Martin. Deakin researcher Dr Penny Love, and front row, Heart Foundation active communities coordinator Lisa Speirs, Rural Northwest Health Community Health nurse Julie Mills, Deakin University research follow Jill Whelan who heads the YCHANGe project and Rural Northwest Health dietitian Ilana Jorgensen.

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