Written by Melissa Ramel, MS, MPH, RD, LD, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Saint Louis University
It’s the beginning of a New Year which brings New Year’s resolutions, cold weather, and hope for healthy change. For the HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Living) Partnership, the community coalition tasked with reducing obesity by 5% by 2018, the new year brings a time to assess the work that has been done in pursuit of a healthier St. Louis.
The HEAL Partnership began in February 2014 as a regional collaboration to build strategic partnerships to improve the health of city residents. The HEAL acronym stands for Healthy Eating and Active Living- both keys to obesity reduction and healthy living.
Since obesity is a multi-faceted disease, a single approach to obesity reduction is not the most effective means of addressing this public health issue. The five prong approach of the HEAL Partnership has resulted in a more comprehensive approach. Each prong is addressed in a subcommittee:
- active living
- healthy living
- health care access
- social marketing
- data and evaluation
The subcommittees are focusing on making an impact in the 63111, 63106 and 63113 zip codes based on disturbing health factors in those areas like chronic disease rates and lack of access to fresh foods. The subcommittees have working plans that complement and contribute to the overall mission, goals, and objectives of the HEAL Partnership. The young partnership already has more than forty organizational partners and over one hundred individual resident members working to improve the health of the city.
The active living subcommittee established walking groups in four neighborhoods. This project was not only an effort to encourage residents to engage in physical activity in their neighborhood but also brought neighbors together and provided an opportunity to discuss common issues or concerns. ‘Pop-Up Pedestrian Plazas’ was another project that the active living group worked on. In this project, thanks to a grant received by HEAL partner Trailnet from the American Planning Association’s Plan4Health program, residents identified dangerous intersections in their neighborhood and created traffic calming areas. The point of traffic calming is to increase neighborhood safety and increase physical activity by residents and commuters.
Another project the group worked on involved the ‘Play across St. Louis’ grant through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This grant allowed researchers at Washington University’s School of Medicine to assess playgrounds in the City for safety. Researchers talked with residents in the communities and collaborated with the City Parks and Forestry divisions to institute plans for improving some of the playgrounds. With a safe and supportive community and neighborhood, individuals of all ages can enjoy the outdoors and be physically active.
Another subcommittee, the healthy living subcommittee is focused on employing community-based interventions that will ultimately increase access to healthy foods- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and heart-healthy fats. The group collected community data and is in the process of developing strategic partnerships with residents and community-based organizations to employ future interventions that will improve access to healthy foods.
Meanwhile, the health care access subcommittee is well on its way to improving access for individuals in the city. This group is collaborating on a project to solidify statewide reimbursement for community health workers. This group has a high advocacy agenda and actively supports the use of community programs like the YMCA’s diabetes prevention program.
In addition, the social marketing subcommittee is discussing approaches to leverage the voices of the HEAL Partnership and to highlight all the great projects that have taken place. Branding options, website development, and further marketing strategies are all at the forefront of this subcommittee.
Data and evaluation
A big win for the data and evaluation subcommittee was the acquisition, analysis, and release of initial obesity data for adults in the City of St. Louis. This was the first major city-wide surveillance of adult obesity and was essential to establishing a benchmark measure for obesity rates.
The HEAL Partnership has had some great ‘wins’ over the past couple of years and has plans to progress and make traction towards a healthier community. Stay tuned for more great work to come from this community coalition that’s proud and ready to serve the City of St. Louis.