The B’more Healthy Communities for Kids (BHCK) Community Forum
A Meeting of the Minds that Share the Same Passion: Promoting the Health of Baltimore Kids
One of the first things you notice at any B’more Healthy Communities for Kids (BHCK) event is dedication. Whether it’s seven o’clock in the morning or seven o’clock in the evening, each BHCK member is alive and ready to promote the health of kids, especially the kids in the Baltimore community. A typical 9 to 5 schedule is not common for this team. On Saturdays, they’re at local corner stores giving away samples of healthy foods and beverages while providing the recipes they were serving that day. You can find them managing youth leaders as they demonstrate cooking classes to Baltimore kids at local recreation centers during dinner hours. And, on this particular day at the Community Forum, they were connecting Baltimore organizations with others that share their passion.
Over fruit, crackers, and coffee, the BHCK team gave a brief introduction of who they are and what they do to get the juices flowing. Organizations that were present ranged from the Whitelock Community Farm to Reservoir Hill Improvement Council to Sugar Free Kids Maryland. After BHCK’s intro was complete, three “hive” sessions broke out. Hives provide a platform where participants can share ideas in small groups, bring those ideas to the larger group then mingle and cross-pollinate their ideas in an unstructured format. The topic of the first hive was centered around childhood obesity. The participants discussed the successes and failures or barriers that come along with childhood obesity prevention and control. Urban farmers talked about their mobile market stands that travel to elementary schools each week during the spring and fall. Local chefs discussed their live cooking presentations they give all around Baltimore City in communities that need it the most. Coalitions implemented cooking demonstrations allowing the community participants to learn healthy techniques hands-on. All were very successful.
Conversely, some of the barriers to healthy eating and living that were discussed included recreation centers at risk of shutdown in neighborhoods that need them the most, the high cost of healthy foods, and the fear of trying new foods. Local recreation centers that are a key component in the structure and positivity of young kids’ lives are possibly being eliminated for reasons like insufficient funding or new city construction.
Healthy food cooking demonstrations in front of a live audience can be costly to prepare, making them cost-prohibitive. Additionally, some participants talked about how trust in people and fear of new foods are often issues. Much of the fresh produce that’s discounted in local markets for those that can’t afford full price or delivered to schools is a variety residents have never seen or eaten before. They can be hesitant and fearful to try them, especially from people they don’t know and trust. So while cooking demos can help bridge the learning gap, people can be reluctant to try new foods from new people.
Additional “hive” discussions were broken out to chat about approaches to address childhood obesity like physical activity, school nutrition, and urban farming as well as real life problems we face in the community. Strategies to make physical activity fun was a hot topic and involved incorporating exercise with the cooking demos and including dancing as a way to work out since it can be enjoyable and natural. A recent success in the school nutrition arena was the citywide implementation of salad bars in school cafeterias. This is a great steppingstone, but there are still some glitches that need to be addressed. For example, the salad bars are not consistently stocked and when they are stocked, they’re not frequently used. Even though having the salad bar option is an important achievement, health promotion at school doesn’t always translate to the home. How can we address this? How do we break through? This brings us back to the trust versus fear barrier.
Another interesting approach discussed was urban farming. Many of the farms that are around the city of Baltimore are there to help rectify food deserts. They provide fresh produce through weekly farm stands, offer food demos to local recreation centers, and host events to better connect with their community. Often, the challenges from the urban farming approach stem from neighborhood acceptance, engagement, and lack of trust. Some of the farms volunteer around the community and advertise with flyers to get the word out. All the approaches that were discussed are definitely a step in the right direction to address and combat childhood obesity, but there is still more that needs to be done
In addition to the small group break out discussions, session participants were asked to jot down ways to prevent and control obesity on sticky notes that were handed out for the upstream exercise.
They were asked to post their ideas on the wall—individual-based ideas on the left and population-based ideas on the right. Ideas like “no fast foods” and “bariatric surgery” fell to the left as indivdual approaches, “mobile farmers markets in communities that exist in food desserts” and “community tasting events” fell to the middle as community level interventions, and finally “stop subsidizing processed food” and “transforming school lunch” fell to the right as upstream policy level interventions. The exercise helped visualize the concept that individual-based tactics is like starting downstream, fighting the problems to the right that will keep floating downward. A better solution is to start upstream with more population-based tactics to prevent and control obesity at the source.
During the BHCK Community Forum, relationships were established, knowledge was shared, and positivity was in the air. There were many “what can we do to help?” questions floating around and talk of future possibilities. It was easy to see that the participants care deeply about the community of Baltimore City. Organizations were committing to feature other organizations in their newsletters and plans were in the works of uniting and working at the “grasstop” level of other organizations that could lend funding or support. But what’s next? What does the future hold? Hopefully, the connections that were made can ultimately leverage health promotion
not only in Baltimore City, but around the world.
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