Healthy Neighborhoods: addressing systemic issues that contribute to childhood obesity

2016 Year in Review – part two in a series of four

Jump IN’s mission is to promote policies and practices that create healthy environments where families and children have real opportunities to make healthy choices and engage in healthy behaviors. Research shows that if healthy nutrition and physical activity policies can be implemented in the places where children and families spend most of their time, their health will likely improve.

In Part One of this Year In Review series, we described how we’re creating “Healthy Places” by improving the policies and practices at schools, child care centers, and worksites to promote better nutrition and physical activity. In this second segment, we look at our efforts to create “Healthy Neighborhoods” where families live, work, and play.

Healthy Neighborhoods

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person’s zip code is more likely to determine their health status than their genetic code. A neighborhood’s “social determinants of health” – factors such as income, educational attainment, access to health care and other resources – directly impact the health status of the residents there.

Children in economically-challenged neighborhoods are at higher risk for childhood obesity and other health issues. In these neighborhoods, limited retail options create “food deserts” where families lack convenient access to affordable, fresh, and healthy foods. The absence or inaccessibility of adequate playgrounds, youth-serving organizations and facilities limits the number of safe places for kids and families to play and be active.  Limited transportation options and an absence of sidewalks and safe walking routes exacerbate all of these issues.

Greater Lawrence/Far Eastside Community Demonstration Project

In early 2016 we launched our first “community demonstration project” in Greater Lawrence and the Far Eastside: a program to pilot numerous strategies and interventions simultaneously in one geographic region. This community, comprised of the City of Lawrence and Lawrence Township, boasts strong partnerships between its schools, health care providers, local government, and community organizations. But the area also presents serious economic and health disparities between the residents in the northern and southern parts of the community; for example, the poverty and pediatric asthma rates for children in the southern half of Lawrence Township are five times higher than for children who live just a few miles north. 

Maps show inequity on the far east side

steering committee of community stakeholders organized in early 2016. The committee is co-chaired by Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier and Lawrence Township Trustee Steve Talley and includes business and hospital executives, school administrators from MSD Lawrence Township and Indianapolis Public Schools, directors of several youth organizations, child care providers, community development advocates, and public health officials.

Last summer, the Greater Lawrence/Far Eastside community successfully competed and was chosen as one of 50 communities across the country to participate in the Healthiest Cities Challenge, a two-year competition sponsored by the American Public Health Association and underwritten by the Aetna Foundation.

Kids at the Finish Line Boys & Girls Club accept the Healthiest Cities Challenge on behalf of their neighborhood

As a participant in the Healthiest Cities Challenge, Greater Lawrence/Far Eastside received an initial $10,000 seed grant, plus additional resources and technical assistance, and a chance to win additional awards ranging from $25,000 – $250,000 at the conclusion of the two-year competition. Jump IN serves as project manager for the community, with additional support from Marion County Public Health and Purdue Extension. 

Early Accomplishments

As part of the Healthiest Cities Challenge—which officially launched on October 1, 2016— the Greater Lawrence/Far Eastside initiative will work to increase public awareness and education, address food access issues in the community, and improve the opportunities to play and be active.  Schools, child care providers, and employers are working to promote healthy habits and create healthy environments in those places.

Several important efforts are already underway:

  • Lawrence Township Schools has created a District Wellness Committee to support its schools in creating and implementing action plans to support nutrition and physical activity programs.
  • All participating Lawrence Township and IPS schools have completed an assessment of nutrition and physical activity policies as a prelude to developing their action plans.
  • FitnessGram assessments were administered to students in grades 4-12 in the fall of 2016. Beginning in February, the Student Health Assessment Quiz will be given to students in grades 3-12 to learn about student behaviors around healthy eating and being active.
  • Twelve child care providers began participating in the Taking Steps to Healthy Success training program to promote healthy habits.
  • Area food pantries are working to increase labeling of healthy food options, incorporate cooking education workshops, and provide other resources to pantry consumers.
  • Community Health Network and Anthem are partnering to pilot an app that helps families track and implement healthy eating and physical activity habits.

Other Healthy Neighborhood Initiatives

In addition to the work in Greater Lawrence/Far Eastside, Jump IN is engaged with other neighborhood and community focused initiatives, including Great Places 2020, Reconnecting to Our Waterways, and Indianapolis Plan 2020. We’re working to promote a culture of health in the broader community through these and other efforts.

Still to Come

Coming in Part 3 of our Year in Review series: a look at “Healthy Community” strategies.