November 22, 2011

Be Our Voice Continues to Amplify Local Childhood Obesity Projects

Food Tasting LabNICHQ’s Be Our Voice childhood obesity advocacy project is taking on a life of its own.

Nearly 150 healthcare professionals have been trained in childhood obesity policy advocacy in the last 6 months independent of NICHQ faculty. Members of the 8 Be Our Voice Phase One site teams, along with some of the original advocates they trained, planned and conducted all of the additional trainings.

“We had a great training with some excellent work plans developed,” said Dr. Valerie Smith, a member of the Texas team who conducted a training in her hometown of Tyler, TX. “One group is meeting [6 days after the training] to begin planning and implementing a running program in a local school district that will involve parents and the community!”

Be Our Voice is a project of NICHQ in cooperation with national partners at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the California Medical Association Foundation (CMAF). The project is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Childhood Obesity. Be Our Voice seeks to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic across the nation by training, supporting, and providing technical assistance to healthcare professionals in becoming advocates for policy change in their communities.

“It was a great networking time,” said Chenoa-Bah Stilwell Jensen, MS, the site lead for New Mexico. Her team conducted 2 additional sessions over the summer and trained a total of 35 new healthcare professional advocates from the Native American community.

The advocates trained at the original sessions led by NICHQ during Phase One have been hard at work implementing their advocacy plans. Some of them have even conducted Be Our Voice trainings in their own communities.

Sara Woods BooneRocky Epstein, an advocate from one of the original Texas trainings, described his team’s experiences at some recent Fall Festivals in Austin. “The parents and kids enjoyed hearing our ‘Sugar Shock’ [presentation] which included several drinks like soda, juice, water, and milk and small specimen cups which had the amount of sugar in each drink. Many were surprised at the amount of sugar in some of their favorite drinks.” The event was a huge success. “In total, we spoke to about 600-700 kids and parents at all 3 events.”

In Phase One of the project, which spanned 2 years, Be Our Voice focused in 8 communities most affected by the childhood obesity epidemic in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and North Carolina. The 6 additional trainings took place in the cities of Gulfport and Jackson in Mississippi; Silver City and Gallup in New Mexico; and Austin and Tyler in Texas.

Nellie Hartsell, a school nurse in Houston, TX, was one of the advocates trained at the initial sessions in 2010. She attended the Be Our Voice Celebration of Success meeting in May 2011 with the Texas site team as one of their “superstar” advocates. And she’s been going nonstop ever since!

“We are off to a good start at Garcia Middle School,” said Hartsell. Her efforts have focused on getting kids to make healthier food choices, and she has found a way to get her students interested. “Our students in the Human Services class [prepared] home-made salsa [and] are growing a ‘salsa garden.’ They loved it!” But the class isn’t just about eating delicious, fresh food. “They learned about the nutritional content of the ingredients, how it compares with commercially available salsa, and how easy it is to prepare a healthy snack.”

Fuel Up Pep RallyEven professional athletes are getting involved in the efforts. “We had a pep rally for our 6th graders to introduce them to our school’s student wellness program,” said Hartsell. The featured speaker was retired NFL cornerback Tyrone Smith, who played for the San Francisco 49’ers. Smith, speaking on behalf of the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, promoted healthy eating and active living to the students.

A critical component of any sustainable improvement project is getting support from the entire system—a key strategy that Hartsell has embraced. “Our parents are beginning to get involved and embrace our efforts at promoting wellness for our students,” she said. “Our cafeteria manager is working with me to encourage the students to select fruits and vegetables from the cafeteria line. And our coaching staff has applied for a grant [that will allow] students [to participate] in a fun jump rope program twice a week, with the goal of improving their cardiovascular endurance. ”

In addition to all the activity happening at the local level, Be Our Voice continues to push forward at the national level as well. The project recently released 2 new guides designed to help community-based organizations and healthcare professionals effectively connect and partner in order to maximize childhood obesity advocacy efforts. And the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded the project a grant to support Phase Two, which aims to spread the Be Our Voice training curriculum nationally using the online advocacy training course (currently being restructured) developed in Phase One.

“Be Our Voice is amplifying and catalyzing the work of local efforts on the ground by providing vital healthcare professional voices to speak for the community,” said NICHQ’s Associate Project Director, Priya Nair Heatherley. “We are so excited to see the project spreading beyond the original sites.”