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Rural Health Information Hub

Win With Wellness

  • Need: To reduce risk of obesity and chronic disease in rural northwest Illinois.
  • Intervention: Win With Wellness (WWW) collaborates with community organizations and worksites to improve physical activity and eating behaviors and reduce weight among adults using a multi-component approach.
  • Results: From 2015 to 2018, the two participating counties initiated 28 Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) groups with 367 participants. In the second round of funding, WWW recruited 183 participants for 9 TOPS groups and 8 community Heart-to-Heart sites.


Win with Wellness logo Residents in northwest Illinois face increased risks of obesity and chronic disease due to unhealthy behaviors and limited access to physical activity opportunities and healthy foods.

In 2014, researchers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford compared county data to overall state data from the Illinois Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and found that residents of Stephenson County and Carroll County showed higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and current smoking than the state average. The premature age-adjusted mortality rate was markedly higher in both counties, especially Carroll.

In addition, these researchers found that a significant proportion of the population in both counties was overweight or obese. In Stephenson County, 73.5% of adults were obese or overweight in 2014; in Carroll County, the percentage was 72.6%.

Through a 2015-2018 Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) Rural Health Care Services Outreach grant, the Win With Wellness (WWW) collaborative was initiated to reduce obesity and chronic disease risk for adults in Stephenson and Carroll counties using a multi-component, community-based approach to promote healthy eating and physical activity behaviors. Interventions supported with initial funding included:

  • Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), a weight-loss support group for adults
  • Heart-to-Heart (HH) health promotion sessions for worksites and community groups
  • Media campaign, including billboards, social media, and radio interviews

In 2018, WWW received a 2018-2021 FORHP Rural Health Outreach grant and enhanced programming focused on reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in adults in Stephenson and Carroll counties by addressing modifiable risk factors.

Interventions focus on improving health behaviors to reduce CVD risk and assessing and addressing environmental barriers to engaging in physical activity and healthy eating behaviors. During the three-year project, WWW targeted a cohort of eligible adults age 30-74 to engage in community or worksite-based interventions to address their personal CVD risk factors identified during enrollment screenings. By leveraging additional funding, WWW has also been able to serve adults who do not meet eligibility criteria, including those over age 74. With the new funding and focus, the following interventions were added to the initial TOPS and HH groups:

  • Text-4-Wellness, a texting program in which participants can receive information and motivational messages
  • Step-4-Wellness, a physical activity monitor program in which participants can track their daily steps
  • HH online sessions
  • Referrals to primary care and the Illinois Tobacco Quitline
Win With Wellness partnerships
Win With Wellness partnership

In addition, physical activity and nutrition environment assessments were conducted and information about existing resources were provided to residents, both in online format and through flyers posted in the community.

The 2018 WWW partnership includes county health departments, clinics and healthcare systems, colleges of medicine and nursing, a United Way branch, and a school district. Medical and nursing students gain experience in community-based research, and WWW benefits from their volunteer work. Since the start of this partnership, three medical students have helped with the WWW Facebook page and two nursing students have helped with the environmental assessments.

Services offered

Participants receive TOPS membership through the FORHP grant. TOPS is a weight-loss support group for adults that focuses on small changes participants can make to their diets and activity levels. Weekly group sessions held in community settings include private weigh-ins and professionally prepared, informational programs featuring up-to-date information on nutrition, exercise, and healthy lifestyles. The program provides positive reinforcement and motivation to adhere to food and exercise programs.

HH presentations are health education sessions led by health educators for worksites and community groups. These presentations emphasize small, practical changes that attendees can make to reduce CVD risk. In December 2019, online HH curriculum modules were launched; there are currently 13 HH modules available.

Text-4-Wellness Text Messaging Program: Participants have the option of enrolling in this program. Enrolled participants receive three text messages per week for 16 weeks and have the option to re-enroll to receive additional messages at the end of each 16-week period. Messages provide tips and motivation to encourage healthy eating and physical activity.

Step-4-Wellness (S4W) physical activity monitor program: Participants have the option of enrolling in this program. Enrolled participants receive a physical activity tracker (if they need one) and must agree to sync their daily physical activity with both the tracker's app and an online platform that allows for activity tracking and the creation of physical activity challenges. Participants are placed in three-week "challenges" in which they receive a daily step goal. After each three-week challenge, participants engage in a one-week group challenge to reach larger step goals as a group.

Community-wide physical activity assessments have been completed for four communities using the Town-Wide Assessment (TWA), Program & Policy Assessment (PPA), and Street Segment Assessment (SSA) components of the Rural Active Living Assessment (RALA). Physical activity maps have been created for each town. Food environment assessments in the same communities using the Nutritional Environment Measures Survey in stores (NEMS-S) have been initiated.


Results from the 2015-2018 FORHP grant

WWW enrolled a total of 367 participants, 92% female and 8% male. Participants who completed one year of the program saw significant reductions in weight (a mean weight loss of 8.8 pounds), which translates to a 1.5-point average reduction in body mass index (BMI). In addition, 42% of participants lost 5% of their body weight or more.

Thirty-nine HH sessions were conducted, with 348 participants (79% female, 21% male): 72% of respondents reported planning to make one or more changes in physical activity, and 83% of respondents reported planning to make one or more changes in eating habits as a result of attending a Heart-to-Heart session.

Results from the 2018-2021 FORHP grant

Overall, 183 participants were recruited for the cohort study. Since this program was a continuation of the previous funding, participants from the 2015-2018 program were brought into the new program.

WWW has 9 TOPS groups and 11 HH sites. A total of 109 participants signed up for the optional Step-4-Wellness program and 86 participants signed up for the Text-4-Wellness program.

The Town-Wide Assessment (TWA) and Program and Policy Assessment (PPA) have been completed for the rural communities of Freeport, Lena, Mount Carroll, and Savanna. The TWA assesses 18 town characteristics including topography, schools, and recreational amenities. The PPA assesses 11 town-level policy and program items that support physical activity. These two assessments enabled the development of a comprehensive database of the amenities and policies that promote or limit physical activity within each town. The information was used to create online community asset maps.


Recruitment Challenges

Recruitment has taken more time and effort than anticipated, particularly due to the difficulty in engaging local worksites to participate. Moving from discussions about worksite wellness to actual implementation has required more extensive planning and ongoing relationship-building than anticipated. Barriers have included scheduling meetings with appropriate worksite contacts; conflicting work schedules among employees within a worksite, which creates challenges in finding a time when a group can meet; busy schedules among worksite employees, which reduces their ability to participate in the group; and competition with other worksite wellness initiatives, such as those offered by health insurance companies.

Because of recruitment challenges, WWW has pursued partnerships with community-based organizations, such as churches, and introduced the online version of HH to reduce participation barriers.

Implementation Challenges

  • Physical Activity Tracker Program (S4W): The implementation of S4W introduced a number of challenges including participants' lack of familiarity with physical activity trackers, teaching participants how to pair their trackers with their phones, participants' lack of access to technology to sync their trackers, and smart phone issues such as compatibility with trackers and apps. This required additional staff time to provide one-on-one support for the participants until they were comfortable with the technology.

    WWW also created a visual guide with screenshots to provide participants with simple instructions for syncing and troubleshooting. For participants who did not have a smart phone or other device for syncing, or for those with persistent challenges with syncing, paper tracking was offered to ensure no one would be excluded from the program.
  • Participant Tracking to Maintain the Cohort: Due to the complexity of the intervention and multiple components, participant tracking is complex and labor-intensive. For example, participants can join existing TOPS and HH groups at any time, so follow-up data collection does not necessarily occur at the same time for all participants. Additionally, while TOPS is a participant-led program, group leaders do not want to manage group activities and prefer WWW staff to fulfill that role. Participants can also engage in any one of the optional programs, which adds another layer of tracking that is required.
  • Participant engagement in HH-Online: WWW is assessing the usefulness of implementing online HH modules. Early challenges identified include internet accessibility issues as well as resistance in older adults to familiarizing themselves and becoming comfortable with using the technology.
  • Partner Engagement: Almost all the WWW partners are actively engaged in the network: They participate in monthly meetings in-person or by phone, provide input and resources in support of WWW, and participate in decision-making related to the WWW activities. The local school district was invited to the partnership at the start of the current grant period. However, due to staff turnover and internal challenges, they have remained disengaged in WWW. Partnership members need to strategize ways to re-engage the school district.
  • COVID-19: COVID-19 provided unexpected challenges to the WWW program. Both TOPS and HH are in-person programs. Health educators came up with creative ways of staying in touch with program participants by using online conferencing platforms, online HH modules, and one-on-one health coaching phone calls.


A key factor to successful replication of community-based partnerships and health programs is to involve people/organizations from multiple sectors during the planning and development stages. Incorporating individuals from sectors not directly related to health can bring a new perspective to the group.

WWW held annual meetings with all participants to provide them feedback on the data and to celebrate their successes. It was also an opportunity to hear participant perspectives on the current program as well as get their ideas for future efforts.

Contact Information

Manorama M. Khare, PhD, Director of the Division of Health Research and Evaluation
University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford

Community engagement and volunteerism
Obesity and weight control
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention

States served

Date added
February 27, 2017

Date updated or reviewed
October 3, 2022

Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2022. Win With Wellness [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: [Accessed 21 February 2024]

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.