LA County advances community prevention to improve equitable access to healthy food and physical activity
There is growing consensus that the places where we live, work, and play have a significant impact on our food and activity behaviors—but what does it take to truly transform neighborhood conditions in urban communities? Our new report explores five cutting-edge community organizations in L.A. County that set out to improve food and activity environments in the predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods where they work. What they did and learned contributes significantly to the field; accomplishments include creating the first-ever farmers market in Inglewood, creating healthy parks in Lynwood and new food policies at community sites, and supporting healthy food retail at corner stores and marketplaces.
These community-based sites partnered with the county health department for the Champions for Change Peer-to-Peer Project to demonstrate models for improving access to healthy food and increasing physical activity opportunities. The health department engaged farmers market operators, local council district offices, social justice organizations, school districts, affordable housing developers, promotoras, and wellness programs to pioneer new approaches to peer-to-peer nutrition education, and to transform places to support healthy eating and physical activity. Other outcomes from the project include planting school and community gardens, establishing healthy vending policies, and joining California’s Market Match program, which doubles the value of SNAP benefits when used to purchase healthy foods at farmers markets.
Prevention Institute and research and evaluation partner Community Intelligence highlight the groundbreaking strategies these agencies used to improve access to healthy foods, and identify potential areas for growth, in their joint report. Advancing Community Prevention through the Champions for Change Peer-to-Peer Projects shares findings from in-depth interviews, site visits, and surveys. It includes on-the-ground stories and striking images from the funded community partners in South Los Angeles and surrounding cities that illustrate the impacts of their work. As one project coordinator, Gisela Carrasco of St. Francis Medical Center, observed, “This work doesn’t happen overnight. It has been a process. We know how important it is to establish a good relationship with the community so that when we are challenged in reaching our goals, we can turn to the community to help support us in implementing the community strategies.”
Traditionally, the peer-based education model has focused on connecting trained educators to members of their own communities to deliver nutrition education, in an attempt to change individual behavior. Through The Champions for Change Peer-to-Peer Project, educators focused on building community capacity to change the conditions the shape health and food access in the first place. Recent changes in federal regulations and new funding from the US Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education arm (SNAP-Ed) signify a growing recognition of the importance of comprehensive multi-level prevention approaches that align with traditional nutrition education. We are inspired by the work that is underway in L.A. County and hope it can serve as a model for other communities while adding to the evidence base for what works in urban communities and communities of color.