Kentucky Be Our Voice Team Continues to Fuel a Statewide Movement

May 3, 2012
By Julie Eisen and Erin Ellingwood

A teacher leads her students in a morning physican activity in a KY elementary class.
Students in a Kentucky elementary school do some stretches to start the day.
In 2009 Kentucky was one of eight sites chosen to participate in Be Our Voice, a national project to mobilize and train healthcare professionals to become advocates for local policy changes in the fight against childhood obesity. Even though Phase 1 of the project officially ended last year, the Kentucky team is still going strong and making profound changes in their community. Team members not only learned how to become advocates themselves, but have trained over 200 healthcare professionals in advocacy to date, passing on skills like promoting awareness through media, building a coalition with local partners, and using local obesity data to support policy change. Now, the Be Our Voice team and its trained advocates have become a powerful local force that is affecting state politics and healthcare to promote healthy weight across Kentucky.

After receiving advocacy training and coaching from Be Our Voice faculty and staff, the core team members were armed with the knowledge and resources to train other healthcare professionals in their communities. These newly-trained advocates could then use these new skills to bring their voices to a wide variety of decision makers responsible for creating and enforcing local policies that affect children’s health. By the time Phase 1 of the project ended in August 2011, Be Our Voice had planted the seeds for a self-sustaining movement in Kentucky.

Training an Army
“A lot of our advocates have been empowered to speak up,” says Dr. Christopher Bolling, the Be Our Voice Site Lead and Obesity Chair for the Kentucky Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “They feel empowered to do things they would not have done otherwise.” Since Phase 1 ended, Bolling and his team have continued to train advocates. The core Be Our Voice team now has such a widely recognized reputation, physician groups regularly invite them to speak at conferences and meet with hospital staff to talk about how they can get involved in advocacy outside of the clinic walls.

One of the most important tenets of this type of advocacy, according to Bolling, is that it must include evidence-based content. “If advocates don’t have good data, they don’t see why it’s important to do, nor are they very effective,” said Bolling. This combination of advocacy skills backed by credible scientific content has been the driver of change in Kentucky and led to changes in statewide policies.

Influencing Politics
Under the leadership of Dr. Bolling, the team’s grassroots efforts have already influenced state-level policy. In the summer of 2011, Be Our Voice advocates were instrumental in helping to create the State Legislative Task Force on Obesity. This Task Force, composed of a group of elected officials in the Kentucky state legislature, is responsible for developing strategies to address childhood obesity, encourage healthy eating, and increase physical activity among children across the state. Advocates trained by the Be Our Voice team served as policy and data consultants to the Task Force and testified at legislature sessions in favor of policies to support healthy living.

In November 2011, Dr. Bolling helped the Kentucky Cabinet of Health and Family Services kick-off a statewide health promotion campaign called “5-2-1-0: Healthy Numbers for Kentucky Families.” The 5-2-1-0 message, first developed by the Let’s Go! program in Maine, is a reminder to eat five fruits and vegetables per day, spend less than two hours in front of recreational screens, engage in at least one hour of exercise, and consume zero sugar-sweetened beverages. The 5-2-1-0 campaign in Kentucky provides free posters, stickers, healthy living “prescription” pads, brochures, and many other resources for doctors, teachers, and other community organizations that want to promote healthy living in Kentucky communities.

Lighting an Advocacy Brush Fire
In addition to continuing to expand the state’s pool of trained healthcare professional advocates, the Kentucky Chapter of the AAP—which served as the home base for the project team during Phase 1—established itself as a leader in childhood obesity advocacy and has become a connector for stakeholders around the state that want to make a difference. “Folks will call in and say, ‘we want to try this in our school,’ and we will connect them to people with similar interests,” says Bolling. “A lot of low-to-the-ground connections are being made.”

The project also served to connect healthcare providers into a variety of community efforts in order to increase their reach and effectiveness. This vast network of healthcare professional advocates has seen their success multiply through other childhood obesity-related projects: a total of fifteen communities have been awarded national grants funded by the CDC since the Be Our Voice project launched in Kentucky in 2009. Eight communities were designated as ACHIEVE communities (Action Communities for Health, Innovation, and EnVironmental ChangE), six were awarded a Pioneering Healthier Communities (PHC) grant, and one received a Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant.

Ashland (ACHIEVE 2/10)
Burlington (Statewide PHC 10/09)
Clay County (ACHIEVE 2/11)
Covington (ACHIEVE 1/12)
Franklin County (ACHIEVE 2/11)
Hopkinsville (ACHIEVE 2/11)
Jefferson County – Louisville (CPPW 3/10)
Madisonville (Statewide PHC 10/09)
Manchester (ACHIEVE 2/11)
Owensboro (Statewide PHC 10/09)
Owenton (ACHIEVE 1/12)
Paris (Statewide PHC 10/09)
Pikeville (Statewide PHC 10/09)
Richmond (PHC 10/11)
Three Rivers District (ACHIEVE 1/12)

More than anything, Bolling says that Be Our Voice has created a movement. “It has spawned so many side projects, forged unexpected connections, and energized so many advocates that it is a little overwhelming. It lit a brush fire here in Kentucky.”