Tackling Obesity in Communities


Obesity constitutes a grave threat to the health and well-being of our nation, as rates have risen dramatically over the past decades with particularly strong impact on diverse and disadvantaged communities. The U.S. now has the highest rate of obesity among all developed nations. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) sought to reverse this trend by convening leaders from clinical settings, public health agencies, and community-based organizations to address obesity at a local level.


HRSA selected us to lead the Collaborate for Healthy Weight, an unprecedented project funded through the Affordable Care Act Prevention and Public Health Fund. We formed a two-phase quality improvement initiative to promote healthy weight and health equity. Teams composed of representatives from primary care, public health and community-based organizations worked to identify, test, and evaluate evidence-based program and policy changes to prevent and treat obesity at a local level. Leading obesity experts developed a framework of strategies and interventions that the participating teams tested, as well as a series of metrics for assessing the teams' progress.


In less than 18 months, more than 400 key leaders and influencers in the primary care, public health and community sectors were trained to use quality improvement methods to form empowered teams, establish common goals, organize shared work and track improvement in an identified target population. As a result of their joint efforts and with the help of data collection tools and training, these communities are on a measurable path to healthier futures. Key successes included:

  • Between 149,000 and 232,000 people were exposed to local messaging promoting healthy weight.
  • 29 teams reached their project goal of having their message reach at least 50 percent of their target population.
  • Participating teams established new standards of care by realizing:
    • A nine-fold increase in the use of healthy weight and behavioral assessments in non-ambulatory care settings
    • A 16-fold increase in the development of healthy weight plans and related goals in non-ambulatory care settings.

Spreading Project Learnings

The lessons learned from the Collaborate for Healthy Weight project resulted in the creation of the Collaborative Action Now to Defeat Obesity (CAN DO) Playbook. The CAN DO Playbook helps primary care, public health and community leaders work together at a local level to defeat obesity. Through interactive exercises, the CAN DO Playbook teaches proven, field-tested improvement strategies for the many settings that influence health, including schools, clinics, hospitals and communities. Plus, an online community connected to the Playbook lets participants share ideas, get help and network with others passionate about improving their community’s health.