Diseases resulting from tobacco use, obesity and diabetes, plus heart disease and stroke, are some of the leading causes of death among African-Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The racial disparities are vast between Blacks and Whites when comparing the prevalence of these diseases and the death rates. Closing the gap has been difficult. But over the past three years, the CDC has funded and facilitated the activities of five community-based organizations aimed to reduce death from these conditions.
The initiative, titled “Partnering4Health”, has not only shown success in preventing death, but provided new insight into community activities that significantly impact health outcomes, according to the Executive Summary of a recently released “white paper” on the results of the initiative.
“From 2014 to 2017, CDC provided five national organizations a total of $30 million to work with local communities and build their capacity for implementing sustainable changes that support healthy communities and lifestyles,” the report describes. “The overall goal of CDC’s funding was to implement, evaluate, and disseminate evidence- and practice-based community health activities that promote health equity.”
In a nutshell, the CDC’s Division of Community Health selected three national organizations to work with their existing regional or local affiliates, chapters, or members. The three organizations were the American Heart Association (AHA), American Planning Association (APA), and the National WIC Association (NWA). Those three organizations “provided 97 funding awards to 94 communities and their cohorts.” The additional two national organizations funded were the Directors of Health Promotion and Education (DHPE) and the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), both of which provided training, communication support, and technical assistance to the project.
“The funding supported the communities’ work toward [policy, systems and environmental] changes that would increase access to smoke-free environments, healthier foods and beverages, physical activity opportunities, as well as overall chronic disease prevention, risk reduction, and management initiatives,” the Executive Summary states.
The three-year-initiative yielded the following successes, the report states:
* A 5 percent reduction in the rate of death and disability due to tobacco use
* A 3 percent reduction in the prevalence of obesity
* And a 3 percent reduction in the rates of death and disability due to diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
The community-based strategies largely involved creative ways to communicate and increase awareness about tobacco use, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and lack of access to chronic disease prevention, risk reduction, or management. Through the use of their newsletters, websites, email blasts, conferences, forums, and existing publications, they reached their members, chapters/affiliates, partners, stakeholders, decision makers and other audiences. They also distributed CDC media messages and public service announcements to key audiences.
The mission of reversing negative behaviors largely through health education and awareness was daunting because of the prevalence of the unhealthy behavior.
“Health risk behaviors cause much of the chronic diseases prevalent in our society today. Tobacco use, the lack of physical activity, and poor nutrition are three behaviors that can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, says Doreleena Sammons Hackett, executive director of DHPE. “These unhealthy behaviors can be corrected, once started. But more importantly they are preventable. Obesity is one of the most serious health concerns as it can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and certain cancers.”
According to the CDC, more than one-third of adults (36%), or about 84 million people, were obese. That includes about one in six youths (17%) aged 2 to 19 years.
Health experts have also acknowledged that the lack of walkable space and safe streets/neighborhoods also contribute to these conditions as well as the lack of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. The availability of tobacco and alcohol in resource-poor communities where fast food chains are the cheapest and quickest option for meals compound the issue.
The report recommends that making a few changes in society and in personal lives can make a difference.
“The 94 funded communities made remarkable strides in improving access to healthier opportunities where people live, work, and play,” the report states. It also outlined the following detailed results:
* More than 16 million people in communities throughout the United States now have more access to nutritious foods, physical activity, smoke-free environments, and/or clinical preventive services.
* Residents of 74 communities now have more access to healthy food and beverage options sold at corner stores, vending machines, mobile food trucks, farmers markets, or by planting new community gardens.
* More farmers markets and other sources of fresh produce in those communities now accept food stamps and WIC vouchers, making healthy food more available and affordable to those with low incomes.
* Residents of 36 communities have more opportunities for physical activity through the creation of bike- and walker-friendly spaces, strengthening of school physical education, addition of worksite wellness sites, and/or new shared use agreements that allowed the public access to unused facilities such as after-hours school gymnasiums or tracks.
* People in six communities have more smoke-free parks, housing, or other environments.
* Mothers of young children in 29 communities can take advantage of breastfeeding-friendly environments and better links to health care professionals and community resources that promote healthy lifestyles.
The initiative aimed to impact chronic diseases in areas where they are most debilitating, where they are diagnosed later, and where the diseases are “associated with worse outcomes in racial/ethnic minorities and low-income individuals, which affects the health of communities overall.”
Overall, the initiative was deemed to have been a major success:
“True to its name, the Partnering4Health project showed that a model of supporting healthier communities by working with and through national organizations is a viable way to leverage resources and build capacity at both the local and national levels,” the white paper concludes. “After this promising start, it has great future potential for reaching even more communities.”
The results of the initiative not only has a national impact, but the benefits can be felt worldwide.
“The cost of chronic diseases in the US and the world far outweigh the cost of prevention,” says Hackett, DHPE executive director. “Promoting physical activity in our most vulnerable populations, the very young and the very old, can lead to longer healthier lives.
Involving the community in healthy endeavors promotes unity while improving health. Community gardens, for example, can be started in schools, senior centers, vacant lots, donated land, window boxes, etc. by almost anyone. This can occur in urban and rural areas around the world.”
Hackett concludes, “Because the United States is emulated in the rest of the world, changing our habits and behaviors towards good health can make positive changes in the rest of the World.”
Now that the three-year initiative has ended, the challenge will now be to sustain the results and continue to spread the education. The information is still available for use.
“To ensure that community agencies, faith-based organizations and health advocates interested in improving the health of their communities have access to the resources from the Partnering4Health initiative, the White Paper and other resources, such as an online course of sustainability of community health efforts have been posted to a new website – www.Partnering4Health.org,” said Thometta Cozart, DHPE’s Partnering4Health communications manager.
Partnering4Health.org actually logs the lessons learned from the community health project and makes them available to the general public. Organizers hope the website – which includes snapshots of the projects, an online training course, an inspiring video story, and loads of resources and materials – will give communities tools in the future to continue to build and nurture healthier communities and lifestyle.
“The bottom line is that people need healthier choices where they live, work and play. And when you get the right people at the table and connect them partners and organizations with similar goals, you can do some amazing things,” says Cheryl Welbeck, project director of DHPE’s Partnering4Health.
The training course has benefits beyond health. It will also impart valuable lessons on ways to strengthen coalitions for any worthy cause, says LaQueisa Haynes-Smith, training and e-learning consultant.
Haynes-Smith concludes, “Those who complete the course will gain valuable insight on enhancing the sustainability of coalitions. They will also be able to leverage the lessons learned and shared by Partnering4Health communities from interviews that identify a range of suggested sustainability approaches.”