“Imagine a rural county with no cell phones, no Nintendos, where you can actually see children outside.” Kay Matlock, from the St. Charles Health Council in Lee County, Virginia, helped set the tone for the first Learning Session of the Healthy Weight Collaborative by envisioning the kind of change she’d like to see for her region.
Matlock was joined by representatives from each of ten teams from diverse communities across the country, who will be working to improve obesity prevention and outcomes in their own geographic regions. Each was there to share their hopes and goals, but most of all, to learn from one another. “We’re here to be a sponge,” said Sonny Shields, from ARcare, based in Woodruff County, Arkansas. “We’d like to learn as much as possible.”
Collaborate for Healthy Weight is a project of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality (NICHQ). The goal is to create partnerships between primary care, public health, and community organizations in ten HRSA regions to discover sustainable ways to promote healthy weight and eliminate health disparities in communities across the United States.
The Learning Session, held on September 14-16 in Washington, DC, was buzzing with activity, conversation, and inspiration. Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Mary Wakefield, Administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration, opened the learning session by telling the teams how critically important – and how innovative – their work is. “You are pioneers,” said Wakefield.
Teams were also able to interact with national experts at a panel entitled “Placing the Healthy Weight Collaborative in the Broader National Context.” When asked for words of wisdom, the panel had more than a few.
“Make sure you’re working with all the relevant people,” said Jenna Seymour, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Janet de Jesus, of the National Institutes of Health, emphasized the collaborative nature of success in this endeavor. “Partnerships are important. Reach out far and wide for different and unique partners.”
“What gets measured gets done,” said Julie Moreno, of Let’s Move!. Moreno added that teams should “celebrate the small wins.”
The teams were coached by physicians and other leaders, who challenged them to think about planning, action, messaging, and evaluation. The importance of messaging resonated strongly with many teams, who plan to solidify their messaging and brands during the first action period.
“I was struck by the creative ways that the three sectors – primary care, public health and community – are thinking about integrating and leveraging their efforts,” said Laura Peterson, Project Director for the Collaborative. “The teams are working with a very broad range of target populations in their communities, which will help us better understand how to broadly spread what we learn through this work.” Added Peterson, “Their energy and enthusiasm was fantastic.”
The ten teams – hailing from Arkansas, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Washington – now take that energy and enthusiasm into the first Action Period, in which they will begin testing new approaches for improving the healthy weight of their communities.
We look forward to watching and reporting on their progress.