Community-level interventions combined with policy find solutions that combat obesity.
With limited access to stores that sell healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, residents of low-income communities are especially susceptible to obesity and weight-related illnesses. Children, who often lack the means and education to change their own environments or make nutritionally sound decisions, face particular challenges.
B’more Healthy: Communities for Kids (BHCK) hopes to change that. This five-year, multi-level, multi-component intervention trial aims to improve the food environment in Baltimore City using several strategies, including:
- Working with small food stores and carryouts to increase access to healthier foods.
- Creating cost-effective partnerships between smaller city food stores and wholesalers.
- Helping young people make healthier food choices, including cooking healthy meals with their families.
- Developing computational models that depict the Baltimore food environment, allowing us to simulate the impact of different programs and policies, alone or in combination.
We work directly in the communities that need us most. Low-income neighborhoods that are also considered food deserts—places where children and families have little access to even the most basic staples of a nutritious, healthy diet, such as fresh produce and whole grain bread.
By examining how multiple factors at different levels converge to cause obesity in children, we’re developing a range of interventions, simulation models and other tools that we believe can promote better nutrition, not only by teaching kids how to make healthy choices, but by creating environments where healthy choices are easier to make.
Cooperation and partnerships are key to our efforts—and our success. BHCK includes five working groups, each representing different levels within the Baltimore City food environment: Caregivers and Children, Recreation Centers and Peer Leaders, Corner Stores and Carryouts, Environmental and Policy.
Since launching in 2011, our project has:
- Partnered with 14 Baltimore-based recreation centers, which serve as hubs forour efforts.
- Conducted dozens of in-depth interviews and focus groups with kids and caregivers to help design our program.
- Received grants from the Abell Foundation, Kids Cook Mondays, Johns Hopkins University Urban Health Institute, General Mills, Pepsico and the Urbanite, which help us provide support and incentives to corner stores and carryouts.
- Conducted a pilot intervention pairing local corner stores with nearby urban farms that deliver fresh produce on a regular basis.
- Created tablet-based computer software that uses GIS technology to collect information about where study participants purchase food and helps us to determine the best stores to work with.
- Conducted an eight-week pilot intervention with youth in a local recreation center promoting healthy cooking and family meals.