Six Keys to Success for Addressing Obesity at the Community Level

Happy girl eating healthy with familyApproximately 17 percent (or 12.7 million) U.S. children and adolescents between the ages of two and 19 years are considered obese. And, although recent figures show improvements in the rate for preschool-aged children (from 13.9 percent in 2003-2004 to 8.4 percent in 2011-2012), there is still much work to be done.

With such a pervasive health issue in the United States, our approach to reversing childhood obesity rates cannot be a solely clinical one. In NICHQ’s experience, it takes primary care providers, public health professionals, leaders of community organizations, schools and more working across traditional professional borders to address obesity at the community level collectively and effectively. Here are six crucial steps to get started addressing obesity in your community:

  1. Form an effective team and make a clear plan. When team members with different perspectives develop common goals, they can be powerful forces for change. Consensus and clarity about how to achieve those goals are critical to the team’s eventual success. Health professionals and clinics can partner with schools, childcare centers, community groups and local leaders to reach more families and have greater impact.
    Takeaway: Working together toward shared goals gets results

  2. Create a consistent message. To cut through the clutter of ads that fill the daily lives of most Americans, messaging needs to be clear, creative, customized and consistent. A consistent message used by typically competitive organizations, such as two hospitals, shows a unified front to the community, as does a consistent message used in schools and community organizations, like YMCAs.
    Takeaway: A consistent message can bring communities together

  3. Develop a system for assessing weight status and health behaviors. Getting an accurate picture of each individual’s weight status is an important first step toward conversations about healthy behaviors. Incorporate healthy weight assessments into electronic health records. Work with schools to collect BMI information or consider using a mobile health unit to visit children at schools, teach them about healthy habits and conduct assessments.
    Takeaway: Measurement is motivating for individuals and communities

  4. Deploy a customized healthy weight plan for all individuals. A healthy weight plan is like a road map that helps guide individuals in making good decisions about their health. Schools, healthcare providers, patients and their families can work together to develop a child’s healthy weight plan, which can incorporate activities from community resources and schools. 
    Takeaway: People respond to personalized plans that address their needs

  5. Align resources to build the capacity of your community. When primary care, public health and community groups collaborate together, they can more effectively use existing resources and inspire the creation of new ones. Expand upon efforts already underway in the community, such as checking to see if schools have student data systems in place that can also track health data.
    Takeaway: Powerful partnerships make things happen, and communities reap the rewards

  6. Influence policies that enable exercise and healthy eating. Whether it is a bike trail, outdoor play equipment or a farmers market, environments can make healthy habits easier to adopt. Policy changes can ensure these changes are strategic and enduring. Meet with your mayor or town manager to enlist their support and possible city or town resources, and partner with parks and recreation departments for greater community impact. Train parents, educators and school food service employees about healthy eating and exercise and equip them with tools and resources to carry on the message to others.
    Takeaway: Healthy environments support healthy habits

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