According to the CDC, 69% of Americans are overweight or obese. The causes for this are well known: poor nutrition, lack of exercise, bad habits and increasing disparities among vulnerable populations. These poor health habits can flow from one generation to the next. For example, children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One study showed that children who became obese as early as age two were more likely to be obese in adulthood.
There is hope as more communities are starting to address health problems where they begin – in the home, at school and in the neighborhoods where we live. Partnerships with grassroots organizations that are emphasizing nutrition and motion – two critical ingredients in improving health in every community – are changing lives, one community at a time. The Aetna Foundation is working with a number of community organizations to tackle these issues at the local level.
The United Way of Central Ohio, for example, is working with corner store owners in Columbus to increase offerings of healthful foods and promote healthier food choices. Students Run America is pairing volunteer teachers with at-risk teenagers as they prepare to run the Los Angeles Marathon. And, in Memphis, the Shelby County Board of Education is creating teaching gardens where local school children are growing their own healthy foods.
With the support of the Aetna Foundation, these programs are just the tip of a very large iceberg of community organizations, activists and volunteers who are changing poor health habits that were generations in the making. As a cardiologist who has tackled these issues with both individual patients and large populations, I’m excited by the creativity and progress that we’re seeing at the local level.
There’s far more work to be done. Organized programs can’t reach every community and every population. But, it’s important to start somewhere. Here are three key strategies Aetna grant recipients are using to improve community health:
- Cultivating farm-to-table eating habits. While fresh fruits and vegetables are an essential element of good health, they are not always readily available and affordable in low-income neighborhoods. Our grantees are tackling this challenge in multiple ways, including connecting communities with their local farmers’ markets, planting community gardens and supporting urban farming.
- Encouraging physical activity, at all levels. In communities where social and environmental factors limit the ability to be physically active, our grantees are fitting fitness into everyday life. Many initiatives incorporate walking or running – allowing participants to get fit at their own pace. Some even combine fitness with mentoring and other wellness activities.
- Reaching people where they live, work and play. Messages around lifestyle change aren’t always well-received, but hearing the message from a trusted source can help. Our grantees are working with local schools, churches, and community organizations to reach people in ways that are impactful, relevant, and well-received.
To support nutrition and motion at the local level, the Aetna Foundation offers the “GoLocal: Cultivating Healthy Communities” grant program. Grants support local initiatives that promote eating fresh fruits and vegetables and being physically active, with a focus on low-income and minority communities.
For more stories about how the Aetna Foundation is working with local community organizations to promote wellness, health and access to high quality health care for everyone, read our 2013 Annual Giving Report.