In the Community
February 8, 2010
Social Services Agency and Kaiser Permanente Work to Address Childhood Obesity in Washington, D.C.
Great things are happening in Anacostia, an underserved neighborhood in the shadow of the nation’s capitol. Neighbors in this community are working together to make major strides in the fight against childhood obesity.
The Summit Health Institute for Research and Education is at the center of Anacostia’s childhood obesity prevention efforts. Kaiser Permanente first started working with SHIRE in 2006, when Kaiser Permanente made its first grant to the organization. SHIRE promotes health and wellness, works to eradicate health disparities and aid vulnerable populations, and advocates in favor of increasing access to health care among underserved populations.
SHIRE’s childhood obesity prevention efforts primarily serve Ward 8 in Washington, D.C., an area that encompasses Anacostia. Ward 8 has few grocery stores, lots of fast food restaurants and streets that many parents believe are too unsafe for their children to play outside. Ward 8 also has rates of childhood obesity that exceed 50 percent in some neighborhoods.
When SHIRE began to tackle childhood obesity in Ward 8, it focused primarily on children ages 0–5, their families, and their childcare providers. SHIRE organized a small group of 30 community leaders — which convened as the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Collaborative — and spent time listening to community members and jointly seeking potential solutions to address systemic and root causes of obesity in the ward.
“We found out early that people were very aware of an obesity issue. They also knew there was a nutrition problem, and they were very aware that their options were limited because they had only corner stores and no grocery stores,” said Canary Girardeau, senior program associate at SHIRE and project manager the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Collaborative. “But not everyone recognized the scope of the physical activity problem. When we talked about (physical activity), they said ‘but we don’t have a safe place to walk. You don’t just ‘walk’ in my community. And you don’t play in the parks. It’s not safe.’
“Then when we asked the young children ‘what should you be eating?’ they all said ‘fruits and vegetables,’” Girardeau said. “But when we asked if they then ate fruits and vegetables, they said ‘no, we don’t like them.’”
They found the same issues with teens — they knew what was good for them, but didn’t know how to access healthy food or how to prepare it. Or, just as importantly, how to avoid unhealthy food in fast-food restaurants.
Among the programs SHIRE instituted in response are:
- A teen and adult peer educator program that has trained community members to teach others life skills related to healthy eating, such as how to shop for healthy foods, read labels and restaurant nutrition information, and prepare fruits and vegetables in ways that make them enjoyable
- The introduction of a physical education module that has incorporated 60 minutes of daily exercise into the curriculum of 100 childcare centers in Ward 8 and three other wards in the District of Columbia.
- Peer-to-Peer public service announcements encouraging healthy behavior that broadcast on local radio stations.
- Container garden programs at Childcare centers to introduce children to the origins of food at an early age.
SHIRE also is helping a Ward 8 neighborhood to build a playground to the residents’ specifications.
Kaiser Permanente has partnered with SHIRE as part of its Community Health Initiatives for Healthy Eating Active Living. Through our HEAL approach, Kaiser Permanente strives to surround families and individuals with opportunities to make healthy choices in every facet of our lives — schools, families, online, communities, grocery stores and beyond. Our HEAL approach is based on the belief that we can improve the overall health of our communities by making the healthy choice the easy choice for people in our schools, worksites, and neighborhoods.
Kaiser Permanente is a national leader in the fight against childhood obesity and, like SHIRE, believes in a comprehensive approach to obesity prevention. Since 2004, Kaiser Permanente has invested more than $50 million, including support for 40 community collaboratives like SHIRE. All of these collaboratives are committed to making significant and sustainable community changes to promote healthy eating and safe physical activity.
“The work being done by SHIRE and its partners in Ward 8 is a model for the nation,” said Loel Solomon, PhD, Kaiser Permanente’s vice president for community health. “They have mobilized residents, key community institutions and policymakers. They have created an inspiring vision of what a healthy community can look like. And they are turning that vision into a reality on the ground.”
Today, the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Collaborative claims 130 active members. Not only does it function as a “think tank” and a clearinghouse for childhood obesity prevention ideas, but it also serves as a resource for solving some of the problems the collaborative identifies. “When we come up with a program, now we can find the skills we need in the think tank to implement that program. By expanding the collaborative, it has allowed us to reach audiences and individuals that we could not get at so easily before,” Girardeau said.
After receiving seed funding from Kaiser Permanente, SHIRE was selected along with other Ward 8 agencies as one of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s lead “Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities” sites. As part of that initiative, SHIRE has created an after-school supper program for low-income children, created and publicized a “saturation index” of unhealthy food and beverage outlets to help residents identify and locate healthy vendors that should be there instead. The initiative also is driving a “Park Keeper” program that works in concert with parks and recreation agencies to help the agencies hire people to maintain parks and promote park use, safety and accessibility.