By Charlie Homer
President and CEO
National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality (NICHQ)
Shikha Anand, MD
“It was impossible to choose one thing to work on, because this isn’t just a project. This is about changing attitudes throughout the entire community. As a pediatrician I’ve learned that you can’t make meaningful change for children unless you involve their families, their schools, and their communities. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”
Dr. Marsha Raulerson is a pediatrician in Brewton, AL with whom NICHQ has worked through our Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported program to train health care professionals in community advocacy. After caring for obese children for years, she recently teamed up with Mim Gaines, Director of Nutrition and Physical Activity for the Alabama Department of Public Health in Montgomery to co-lead Healthy Community, Healthy Children. Through this initiative, the two have engaged diverse partners including: the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) to create six community gardens; the Brewton Area YMCA to create safe and appealing outdoor spaces for exercise, including walking trails that connect the parks and green spaces; and the Brewton School Board to convert an old school into a community center. The Brewton team believes the success they have achieved occurred only because they were able to establish meaningful partnerships across diverse stakeholders.
Obesity is a leading preventable cause of death nationwide. Disadvantaged and underserved communities are disproportionately affected. As a multi-faceted public health issue, obesity requires a multi-sector approach to resolve. Reversing this trend will require concerted, collaborative effort by diverse stakeholders including families, clinicians, government and community partners. Ongoing national efforts, such as the first lady’s Let’s Move Initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation activities and numerous others reflect the importance of such partnerships. For example, Let’s Move calls on parents, kids, chefs, elected officials, community leaders, schools, and healthcare providers to make positive change in communities.
At NICHQ, we are collaborating with the Heath Resources and Services Administration on the Collaborate for Healthy Weight Initiative, a trans-federal, public-private effort to promote healthy weight and health equity across the country. Along with a core set of consortium partners —including AMCHP — and a larger group of partners from federal agencies, community, public health, and primary care, we are launching a nationwide Healthy Weight Collaborative to support at least 50 multi-sector, place-based teams from across the country (soon starting initially with 10 experienced teams). Teams, facilitated by partners and other experts, will work together to implement evidence-based changes within their communities. By leveraging partnerships between primary care, public health, and community agencies, teams will engage in a variety of activities and interventions to help local communities, states and other interested groups develop practical approaches that link public health and primary care to prevent and treat obesity for children and families. These approaches will focus on strengthening community partnerships, promoting healthy eating and active living through environmental change, and delivering effective services to those in need.
“It’s bigger and better than we ever imagined it would be,” says Dr. Raulerson of their community mobilization. By promoting partnerships that combine public heath and other agencies within a community, we at NICHQ hope to spread the success seen in Brewton to communities across all 50 states.