Be Our Voice Blog

Blog Entries in Obesity Resources

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Defining Your Focus: Who Are You Advocating For?

Posted by: Kristi Fossum Jones, MPH

When it comes to local advocacy, there is no one-size fits all approach. However, Be Our Voice has developed a framework that can help guide advocates through the process of creating an Advocacy Plan to steer their work. Having a clear, detailed plan is one of the most important components of effective advocacy—without a plan, it can be much more difficult to stay focused, measure your success, and meet your goals.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be talking about the different steps in this advocacy framework and how each step can help advocates amplify their impact in the community.

Step #1: Define the community/communities in which you will focus your advocacy activities!

Pediatric healthcare professionals have a large patient population that includes kids from newborns to eighteen year olds and all those in between (and even some past the age of eighteen). Their patient population also includes parents (adult and teen) since healthcare professionals give support and guidance to the parents as well as the pediatric patients who come through their offices. In addition, this patient population can be racially/ethnically mixed or homogenous, rich or poor, English-speaking or non-English speaking, etc.
And obesity can affect any or all of the patients in this population.

So given the diversity of the pediatric patient population, how do healthcare professional advocates choose where to focus their advocacy efforts? After all, there’s so much that could be done for so many!

The answer? Group advocacy—tailoring advocacy activities and interventions to address problems that members of a group have in common.1 A group can be defined by age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, language, location, school, health outcome, etc. But the more clearly defined the group, the easier it is to tailor advocacy and interventions. Defining a specific group for interventions may make obtaining funding easier. And focusing at first on a specific group means advocates can start small, see successes, and build on these successes later.

There are several considerations when choosing a focus population for advocacy efforts: passion, personal practice experience, data, or all of the above. Healthcare professional advocates might choose a target population based on one served by existing coalitions or advocacy activities in their community. For example, a pediatric care provider with a longtime passion for breastfeeding might focus on new moms in the community. Someone in an area with high rates of obesity among African-American children might join with others in the community who already focus on African-American families in specific neighborhoods. Such collaboration among advocates amplifies advocacy.

According to Dr. Judith Palfrey, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard University Medical School, “The most successful group programs concentrate energy on one type of child or problem, but they derive that energy from multiple sources. To battle childhood obesity, the staff members in the clinic, the teachers in the school, the YMCA director, the church pastor, and the families all deliver the same message. They serve the same balanced nutrition. They all show up at the fitness fair.”1

A great example of collaborative advocacy can be seen in NICHQ’s Collaborate for Healthy Weight project, where diverse partners from public health, primary care, and community organizations bring their expertise and energy together to address local community problems with a consistent message. For instance, the Collaborate for Healthy Weight team from Fairfield County, South Carolina, is focusing on a population defined by geography: pediatric and adult patients at two specific health centers.2

Many obesity prevention advocacy activities clearly target specific populations. Highlighted here are some that will hopefully give healthcare professional advocates ideas for novel ways to use creative advocacy and interventions to target specific populations.

Target Population: 60 Latino families participating in Head Start
Location: Lubbock, TX
Description: Through the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, promotoras (community health workers) will make home visits for 6-12 weeks to teach families about health eating and exercise, providing social support and education as part of an obesity prevention study.

Target Population: Obese pediatric patients in the Healthy Hearts Clinic at the North Oakland Children’s Hospital
Location: Oakland, CA
Description: The hospital and Phat Beats Produce host an on-site Farmer’s Market, provide patients with market vouchers, and cooperate on a garden that is shared and worked by hospital patients and neighborhood families.

Target Population: Northeastern Ohio children ages 8-13 who are overweight/obese
Location: Akron, OH
Description: Akron Children’s Hospital offers Future Fitness Clubs in community fitness club locations for children and teens to learn about exercise and nutrition in a group setting.

Target Population: Residents in food deserts and project youth
Location: Nashville, TN
Description: Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital is involved in The Veggie Project, which organizes youth-run produce markets at community host sites in food deserts. The program also involves nutrition education.

Target Population: Pregnant and postpartum moms
Location: Scottsdale, AZ
Description: Gestational diabetes can affect both mom’s and baby’s health, increasing baby’s risk of obesity. Scottsdale Hospital’s Gestational Diabetes Education Program helps moms control their gestational diabetes during pregnancy, and provides postpartum follow-up care and a diabetes prevention class.

Target Population: Grandparents who regularly care for their grandchildren
Locations: Houston, TX; Chicago, IL; New York City, NY
Description: Healthy GrandFamilies educates grandparents about kids’ nutrition and exercise. Pediatric healthcare providers offer education at community sites in large cities like Chicago and Houston.


  1. Palfrey, Judith. Child Health in America: Making a Difference Through Advocacy. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
  2. The Herald Independent. “Eat Smart, Move More Fairfield receives grant.” Published April 21, 2012.

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