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Success Stories About Advocating Against Childhood Obesity

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Be Our Voice Project Successes

Videos of project success stories are available for viewing on each site's page: AL, AR, KY, MS, NM, TX, Wake County (NC), Cabarrus County (NC). The Be Our Voice: Celebrating Our Success project video can be found on the "About Us" page!

Other Successes from Around The Country

Christy L. Sutton, RN
Wilmington, North Carolina

I am the practice manager for a large pediatric practice in SE North Carolina. Just over 1-2 months ago, I began working with our doctors to begin an obesity program here at our clinic with our target date set for June 1st. Historically, this is a goal for me personally, as I researched and wrote an article on childhood obesity and prevention several years ago while in college. So far, we have involvement from other healthcare professionals, i.e. pediatricians, child psychologist, dietician, our local YMCA and the CEO of the YMCA who is a prominent youth leader in our community. I am so excited--this is coming together after several weeks of work. Our plan is to start small with ten children and families for twelve weeks and follow them with loose supervision for another twelve weeks and, of course, longer as needed. I have reached out to retailers to offer their support as well for these families, such as grocery store tours and label education, exercise opportunities, etc. I am interested in suggestions or resources that others may be able to share.

Preston Maring, MD
Oakland, California

Dr. Maring started a farmer's market right outside his hospital to increase patient and hospital employee access to fresh produce.

As a gynecologist and obstetrician with three decades as a surgeon, and the former physician in chief at the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Oakland, Dr. Maring noticed there was a lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables around the hospital where he worked. This situation did not sit well with him since Dr. Maring believes that physicians should set examples for their patients by growing, buying, cooking, and eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. So, in 2003, Dr. Maring started a farmer's market right outside the hospital doors to make fresh, organic produce available to hospital workers, pedestrians, and those visiting the hospital.

Introducing fresh fruit and vegetables into patient meals was sometimes a challenge as the technical aspects of food-distribution within a hospital prevented certain kinds of food from finding their way onto meal trays. The sheer size of Kaiser's operations also made changing the way food is purchased a difficult task. But Dr. Maring persisted, and now Kaiser Permanente has farmer's markets at 30 sites.

In addition to changing the way that hospitals purchase food, Dr. Maring has partnered with local farmers in an effort to get smaller producers linked with larger supply chains like Kaiser. The Community Alliance with Family Farmers is a regional growers' cooperative run by a nonprofit entity, of which Dr. Maring joined the board. He has visions of Kaiser leading the way in environmental stewardship in the future. But for now, Dr. Maring is focused on expanding his efforts with local farmers and increasing the prevelance of farmer's markets at hospitals.

This story has been adapted from an article in the New York Times.

Dexter Louie, MD
San Francisco, California

A member of his local school board in Moraga, Dexter Louie, MD, forged an alliance between education and medicine.

An Ear, Nose, and Throat physician, Moraga School Board member and a community advocate, Dr. Louie noticed more and more junk food appearing on school campuses and decided to take action. He developed a program to educate middle school students about the obesity epidemic and the decisions being made about their school campuses that affect their health. Dr. Louie does not go into classrooms and lecture students about the harm found in the soda bottle – he empowers them to become advocates and influence the decisions made about food choices at their schools.

After educating students about the role of nutrition and physical activity in overall health, Dr. Louie challenged them to develop strategies to improve campus-wide wellness. Students came together to conduct research, identify potential changes and implement an action plan, which included removing soda machines, adding vegetarian lunch items to the cafeteria menu, producing a health awareness newsletter and developing non-competitive physical activity programs. These activities not only provided healthier options for students and faculty, but the process also illustrated the impact individual students can have on a community. Students learned valuable academic skills as well as the benefits of teamwork and advocacy, and they benefitted from better nutrition and increased physical activity because they wanted to participate in the programs they created.

Dr. Louie has been interested in obesity prevention since his time as an Air Force flight surgeon in the 1970s when he worked to teach airmen about nutrition and exercise, but because they weren’t invested in changing their behavior, their fitness didn’t improve. This experience planted a seed that matured when he heard former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher’s “Call to Action” speech in 2001, where he reported that 60% of American adults were overweight or obese. Dr. Louie has had success working in the Moraga School District and in San Francisco schools because of his attention to cultural competency, and his ability to engage and empower community partners toward the common goal of reducing obesity to improve health outcomes. He is now working with the CMA Foundation to train physicians in involving the community in obesity prevention efforts.

This story has been adapted from the CMA Foundation Obesity Prevention Project.

Helen Jones, MD
Fresno, California

Helen Jones, MD, broke down barriers to create a culture shift in the educational community.

Helen Jones, MD’s children were different from most of their classmates. While they had easy access to preventive health care, nutritious meals and active after-school activities, 85% of students in the Fresno Unified School District relied on a free meal at school.

An Internal Medicine physician and leader of local medical societies, Dr. Jones recognized the link between nutrition, physical activity and academic performance and she saw that the district’s nutritional choices were having a direct effect on student health.

During her tenure as president of the Fresno-Madera Medical Society, Dr. Jones worked together with the Superintendent of Schools to create the Fresno Unified School District’s Wellness Policy to link student health with learning. The Healthy School Environment Wellness Committee coordinated parents and guardians, student, school-district-affiliated food service professionals, administrators, and board representatives, along with members of the public, to develop, implement and monitor a first-of-its-kind policy in the District. This coalition created a revised set of guidelines and standards to improve child nutrition and increase physical activity at school. Collaborating with such a diverse stakeholder group presented unique challenges, but it was essential to successfully shift a culture where district officials relied on reimbursable meal and food sales; and administrators, teachers and parents were able to fund certain programs only through activities like candy and soda sales.

Dr. Jones was committed to working with her partners to make healthy eating and physical activity second nature, moving the focus from size to fitness. The Wellness Committee created a toolkit which now provides a guide for health and physical education and innovative ways for students to use physical activity to raise school funds, such as jog-a-thons. A nutrition center allows the District to control the quality of ingredients in school meals, resulting in more wholesome, unprocessed foods. A farmers’ market on campus invites local farmers to provide students, families and community members with access to fresh and affordable produce.

Dr. Jones believes that grassroots efforts to fight obesity need physician involvement in the community and the clinic. She hopes to encourage colleagues who are also parents to take advantage of opportunities at their children’s schools where their credibility can carry the weight of their message.

This story has been adapted from the CMA Foundation Obesity Prevention Project.

Robert Christopher Searles, MD
Chula Vista, California

Robert (Chris) Searles, MD, partnered with recreation professionals to create a social, intellectual and recreational connection to healthy living for families across generations.

A family practitioner and psychiatrist, Dr. Searles sees uninsured and underserved patients exclusively. He watched as, like an unbalanced seesaw, the rise of planned communities and suburban amenities on Chula Vista’s east side sent the aging urban core on the west side falling to the ground with a resounding plunk. This already impoverished area felt even more destitute against the sparkling backdrop of newly constructed homes, recreation centers and shopping areas.

Dr. Searles created the Chula Vista Physicians Winning with Recreation program (CV PoWeR!) to increase access points to recreation for all residents as a way to reduce obesity and improve overall health. He was inspired to improve his “community competence” about available resources after seeing an elderly patient who had trouble getting to a swimming pool to exercise. Dr. Searles drove to his patient’s home and decided to chart her path to the pool. After spending more than an hour on two busses he arrived with a deeper understanding of the formidable barriers patients face. With bus fare and entry to the pool, his patient would be spending $80 per month on an activity that was inconvenient and uninviting. This simply wasn’t feasible.

Dr. Searles formed a partnership with the city’s Recreation Department to create a “recreation prescription”. The program provides physicians with seasonal color-coded prescription pads that include age-specific exercise recommendations and the corresponding community programs available free of charge with the referral. Dr. Searles doesn’t just “prescribe” exercise – he conducts an “exercise audit” with patients to discuss family dynamics, identify barriers to fitness, and empower patients to remove those barriers. Dr. Searles also recommends providing recreation prescriptions to family members to encourage cross-generational modeling and create a sense of family obligation to comply with a program. He is now working with local transit to develop a partnership to expand resources for residents. Building on the success of CV PoWeR!, Dr. Searles created to promote partnerships between physicians and recreation organizations by providing program starter kits. San Diego and Tulare Counties have since launched programs modeled after CV PoWeR!

Dr. Searles used his professional identity to engage with the community, fundamentally changing his impact on health outcomes. Community involvement outside of health care remains a priority for Dr. Searles, and he currently serves as Chair of the Chula Vista Parks and Recreation Commission.

This story has been adapted from the CMA Foundation Obesity Prevention Project.

Michael Fisher, MD
Santa Barbara, California

Michael Fisher, MD, harnessed the power of a “village” to create a growing community effort to stem the tide of childhood obesity.

Dr. Fisher is a nephrologist who began to notice more patients with end-stage renal disease at younger ages. Watching patients walk into the dialysis clinic, he realized that an entire generation of children was being sacrificed because obesity was reaching epidemic proportions. His answer was to shift the delivery of health care from treatment to prevention and community action. Over the past 10 years, Dr. Fisher has energized and mobilized his community and his colleagues to support this effort by creating the Santa Barbara Diabetes Resource Center (DRC). DRC has taken a lead role in reaching out to underserved communities to provide the nutrition education and support needed to prevent diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Through a pro-active public relations and media effort, Dr. Fisher described the reality of this obesity epidemic and consequences for children, families, the community and its health care system. His message resonated with the Santa Barbara Superintendent of County Schools, who provided the first step toward building a community movement by engaging educators and parents. Building on this, he next approached the city of Santa Barbara to adopt the “America on the Move” obesity prevention program and implement “Santa Barbara on the Move!” In early 2005, lawmakers, businesses, health organizations and more than 1,800 residents launched the campaign with a lap around City Hall to symbolize the need to take small steps to greater health.

Although changes have progressed incrementally, Dr. Fisher has steadily propelled successful activities. He has grown the DRC into a non-profit corporation that provides support for programs such as community and school gardens, teaching kitchens, exercise and fitness classes, classroom education, school-based health and fitness programs, and a partnership with the Promatores de Salud to conduct bi-lingual pre-natal programs. These efforts have created a renewed optimism that individuals can break the cycle of obesity and make positive changes for their families, working in some of the most at-risk, underserved areas of Santa Barbara.

The DRC was awarded a Silver Medal from the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness for its work to reduce childhood obesity, and is considered by the Council to be a model for the rest of the state. Most recently, Dr. Fisher received a 2-year grant from the California Endowment to implement the Carpinteria Childhood Obesity Initiative to address and reverse the area’s childhood obesity problem. The DRC has also received funding to expand the Promotoras de Salud. In order to have a lasting effect on a family’s health choices, they must take ownership. Promotoras are natural leaders from the community who become mentors and role models for their peers and families at risk. Partnering together in the community can lead to greater change for individuals and their communities.

This story has been adapted from the CMA Foundation Obesity Prevention Project.