Building Scale for Building Healthy Families

A decade ago, Dr. Kate Heelan and a team of University of Nebraska Kearney (UNK) researchers set out to develop a program aimed at reducing childhood obesity. The director of the university’s Physical Activity and Wellness Lab, Heelan launched Building Healthy Families, a 12-week program to help families of children aged 6-12 make better food choices, boost physical activity and correct unhealthy behaviors that have become all-too prevalent as obesity rates have surged in recent decades.

The program that debuted in 2009 was so successful that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2019 awarded Heelan and Dr. Jennie Hill (University of Nebraska Medical Center – UNMC) a $2.5 million grant to expand Building Healthy Families to rural communities across the state and region.
But the success of Building Healthy Families brought about a new challenge:  How to make the program taught in a live environment more accessible online?
The answer was a collaboration with Trifoia, to convert the entire 12-week Building Healthy Families curriculum into a digital training solution. 
“The materials had been developed and used by the research team for many years,” Heelan said. “However, we had not yet attempted to compile these materials into a formal online format.”
The work included adapting the program’s key behavioral insights, diet and activity modifications into an eLearning course with scalable training components, complete with videos, animation, knowledge tests and interactive multimedia platforms.
Their goal all along was to build a digital platform that could be easily accessible outside of a university setting, particularly in rural communities, where a lack of access to healthcare services can be a barrier to a healthy lifestyle. But any organization working on the project would need to have the expertise to deliver a secure data platform that could be updated and modified so the UNK/UNMC team could track data from multiple users efficiently.

Web portal allows program facilitators to access materials and track family progress.
“We knew that Trifoia had experience in packaging behavioral interventions and working to ensure program integrity and data that could be tracked,” Hill said.
Trifoia’s production team started with a review of the Building Healthy Families materials, to convert printed literature about lifestyle modification, weight loss, stimulus control and goal setting into scripts for a digital solution that was intuitive enough for instructors outside the university to administer.
Trifoia’s team then worked with Heelan’s research team to transform the program. Through Trifoia’s digital solution, families enrolled in the program get together once a week with a trainer in their community, who tracks their progress and provides diet, exercise and other instruction. These trainers, from community-based organizations including schools, health care clinics and parks and recreation departments, have access to the Building Healthy Families website and all of the digital material. This enables trainers to devise a custom lesson plan with knowledge tests customized to the user. The platform is HIPAA compliant, to ensure adequate data collection for the trainer, and privacy for the user.
Trifoia’s support has resulted in a user-friendly online version of Building Healthy Families, which can be taught outside of a university setting.
“Trifoia has a lot of experience building multimedia platforms and could help us envision an end product. An important aspect of our project is to reach into rural communities, which may experience a range of issues related to an online platform—including lack of broadband or intermittent services,” Hill said.
Digital accessibility is crucial to Trifoia’s mission. And particularly in rural areas where access to high-speed internet is sporadic, digital solutions providers need to build platforms with these end users in mind.
“Trifoia has designed for this audience and was flexible in thinking about how products needed to load, and simple things like downloadable PDFs, so if connectivity is a problem, our coordinators could still use the materials,” Heelan said. “These are important issues that we could run into while working in these rural communities. Trifoia’s team also understands what key features are needed to help make our website useful and usable.”
Printable materials educate, inspire and help keep families on track with their goals.
Freshly equipped with Trifoia’s digital solution, the UNK/UNMC team is working to package the Building Healthy Families curriculum for other small or rural communities to implement. Heelan has seen through her decades of experience in exercise science that there’s a strong interest in addressing childhood obesity throughout communities that may lack the full range of expertise and resources to take on the issue.

Her team plans to test Trifoia’s online program over the next two years, with the goal of expanding into additional Nebraska communities and outside of the state.

Building a platform to scale the program, and meeting project deadlines despite going remote during the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforced to Heelan and Hill that Trifoia was the perfect partner for such a complex project.
“The level of production exceeded our expectations,” Hill said. Trifoia’s work “brings a professionalism to the entire online program.  And it isn’t just the media production, but also other branding and creation of materials that are cohesive and coordinated. It makes the entire package shine. Seeing a product come out better than what was imagined is everything we could ever want.”


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