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Nevada Women in Recovery take Healthy Steps to Freedom

| Nevada



After completing the 10-week Healthy Steps to Freedom lessons, 70% of women assessed made healthier choices, 47% increased physical activity, 54% improved in body image acceptance and 49% reported desiring a higher ideal weight. These changes allow for a healthier recovery.  


Poor nutrition in individuals with substance use disorder can severely affect their physical and mental health, which can make it difficult to resist substances and have a healthy recovery. Additionally, high anxiety and poor body image are among the causes that lead to substance use and addiction.  


Healthy Steps to Freedom (HSF) is a direct education health, nutrition, and body image program (part of a broader intervention that includes PSE) designed to augment existing broad-based drug treatment and community education programs for women in recovery for substance use/misuse. HSF spans nutrition, diet quality, balanced meal planning, physical activity, family mealtimes, understanding nutrition panels, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, food resource management, positive self-esteem, and reduced body dissatisfaction. 

To supplement the nutrition education and physical activity, this program addresses the influence of media, culture, family and peers on women’s body image and self-esteem, and its relationship to substance use/misuse; perception of fat and weight based on societal influences; and the impact of body composition on use and relapse. Higher ideal body weight perceptions indicate a reduction in body dissatisfaction and improvements in weight concerns.   

HSF is a 12-week program delivered once a week. There has been a revision to reduce the program to 10-weeks which has demonstrated similar results as the 12-week program. The program is taught by SNAP-Ed educators and by recovery center professionals via train-the-trainer support from SNAP-Ed. 

Building healthy living skills is important for women in substance use disorder recovery, not only for themselves, but also for their children. Participation in the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) Extension’s HSF classes can improve healthy attitudes and behaviors in food choices, physical activity, and body image.

  • 198 women participated in the HSF program
  • 43.4% (n=86) of participants completed at least 80% of the lessons
  • 71% of the women had at least one child under 18 (mothers of young children)

Forty seven percent of participants increased the amount of time (MET-mins) they spent being physically active; 70% of women made healthier food choices; 54% improved in body image weight and shape acceptance; and 49% of participants self-reported an “ideal weight” that was higher at post than at pre, showing an increased awareness of choosing a more realistic weight goal. At pre-assessment unhealthy and/or unrealistic “ideal” weights were often reported by participants. Through the program’s integration of reduced body dissatisfaction and improved self-esteem, higher weights were reported at post-assessment. This signifies more realistic and healthy relationships with body weight.    

Sustaining Successes

The UNR Extension Healthy Living Sustainable Recovery program is looking forward to expanding policy, system, and environmental change efforts with support from wellness committee members to foster sustainability, allowing more low-income women access to proper nutrition. The wellness committee members include SNAP-Ed educators, recovery center professionals (e.g., Site Coordinator), and clients of the recovery center. The committee designates a Lead who is a client of the center and serves as the Champion of the SNAP-Ed efforts. This individual changes on a quarterly basis due to turnover at the facility. That said, the committee meets monthly to inform the PSE interventions designed and implemented. 

PSE efforts include support with the on-site garden and integration of the garden produce into food tastings and menu planning, provision of physical activity equipment and calendars to encourage regular physical activity participation in the center’s operations, improved healthy messages in the facility through bulletin boards, and professional development training to deliver HSF via train-the-trainer. 

Program success was evaluated using pre- and post-tests which measured health behaviors related to the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables eaten, calcium-rich foods and water intake, physical activity, and weight and shape perception.  

Contact Information
Macy Helm
University of Nevada, Reno Extension
8050 Paradise Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89123

Resource Type