One goal that has emerged from HEAT is to improve health by improving the local food environment. Three HEAT partners—the Leon County Health Department, Greater Frenchtown Revitalization Council, and the University of Florida—are collaborating on research funded by the Blue Foundation to understand how the food environment constrains healthy food choices in Tallahassee. A related group has initiated a local Food Council, which aims to improve access to healthy and sustainable foods in Leon County.
So many people and organizations will be interested in a new report just released by the Prevention Institute, “Recipes for Change: Healthy Food in Every Community.” As the Prevention Institute explains, “The paper outlines organizational practices and public policies to expand access to healthy foods in support of healthy eating and better overall health.” The report provides recommendations for creating healthy food retail environments, increasing access to healthy foods in schools and other public institutions, reforming federal food and nutrition assistance programs, and supporting regional food systems and agriculture. The overarching goal is to build a healthier food system in the United States, with a focus on increasing access to healthy foods in low-income communities and communities of color.
See the Prevention Institute website for more.
HEAT is among a growing number of community-academic partnerships that have embraced community-based participatory research (CBPR) as an approach to explain and eliminate social inequalities in health. Some leading proponents of this approach have now released an instructional course—available on CD-ROM or as a downloadable file—to help people get started with this approach.
The course is titled “Community-Based Participatory Research: A Partnership Approach for Public Health.” The primary instructors are Barbara Israel, Chris Coombe, and Robert McGranaghan from the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center (where, incidentally, I did my postdoctoral training in CBPR). As the instructors describe it, the training includes five parts:
- Rationale, definition, and core principles
- Strategies for forming, maintaining, sustaining, and evaluating CBPR partnerships
- Qualitative and quantitative data collection methods and interpretation
- Dissemination and translation of research findings
- Benefits, challenges, and recommendations for using CBPR for research and social change
To receive a free copy (if sent within the United States and U.S. Territories) of the CD-ROM, or to access the downloadable version, please register at: www.cbpr-training.org. Information about availability of continuing education credits can also be found on the website. You may also register by phone by calling the Michigan Public Health Training Center at 734.615.9439 (Course code: CBPRR0909).
Reducing childhood obesity is a recognized public health priority in the U.S. as a whole and in Leon County in particular. Many HEAT partners are involved in work to address this problem, and we will soon learn whether our application to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will result in new funding for policy advocacy to improve the local food environment.
A recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) will be useful in our efforts. The report outlines actions that local governments can take to curb childhood obesity. As the IOM explains:
The committee sought action steps that are within the jurisdiction of local governments; likely to directly affect children; based on the experience of local governments or sources that work with local governments; take place outside of the school day; and have the potential to promote healthy eating and adequate physical activity.
Visit the IOM website to download the full report.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has published an invaluable resource to help state and local policymakers make their communities healthier. The Action Strategies Toolkit from RWJF’s Leadership for Healthy Communities initiative describes a range of evidence-based strategies to promote health and curb childhood obesity. The strategies involve policy changes in several areas related to active living and the food environment, including land-use policies to encourage physical activity and incentives to attract supermarkets and farmers’ markets to neighborhoods with limited access to healthy food choices.
In a recent podcast from Partnership for Prevention, Dr. David Williams, Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, discusses the work of the Commission to Build a Healthier America. Williams discusses what makes Americans healthy and what we can do to improve public health in the United States. He identifies two take home messages from the Commission that are relevant to our work with HEAT. First, all Americans could be healthier than they are. This is important because it reminds us that health equity matters for everyone, not just people in disadvantaged groups. Second, as Williams puts it, “Good health is not created in doctors’ offices and hospitals.” Williams describes our health care system as a repair shop; we need to focus on what causes people to get sick in the first place. It follows that we need to broaden the current debate about health care reform to include a focus on how the social environment shapes health and drives up health care costs.
Tune in to Prevention Matters for the full podcast.
Like many communities around the country, we have used the PBS documentary Unnatural Causes to raise awareness and stimulate discussion about the causes of social inequalities in health. Now there is an online Continuing Education (CE) program for health service providers.
The online CE program for Unnatural Causes is produced by San Francisco State University and Community Health Works. CE credit is provided by the American Public Health Association and is available for physicians, registered nurses, certified health education specialists, and any provider whose board accepts CE credits for non-physicians. The program consists of a four-hour series that awards up to four CE credits per person for a cost of $50 per person. For more information, visit the program website.
Policylink and the UC-Berkeley School of Public Health recently released a report featuring 10 case studies about using community-based participatory research (CBPR) to foster healthy public policy. The report, “Promoting Healthy Public Policy through CBPR,” is freely available here (PDF).
The diverse community-academic partnerships featured in this report remind us that all public policy is health policy. The case studies include work to improve school conditions in Los Angeles, to reduce diesel bus pollution in Harlem, to ease the transition from nursing homes to the community in Chicago, to promote food security in San Francisco, and to engage young people in policy-making in New Mexico.
These examples of successful community-academic partnerships are a model for what we can do with HEAT.