Communities Creating Healthy Environments

When The Praxis Project and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) began to imagine what would become Communities Creating Healthy Environments (CCHE), we knew this would be more than a traditional “intervention.”

We all felt deeply connected to the issues that contribute to childhood obesity. We wanted to build an initiative that addressed the realities and root causes many of us around the table knew from experience.

These realities — including deep structural inequalities in access to play and recreation, and environmental risk factors like neighborhood and state violence — can make playing outside dangerous and even life-threatening for children in low-income communities and communities of color.

When it comes to nutrition, our communities’ changing relationship to food sources, biased and predatory marketing and historic patterns of discriminatory policies have created a segregated food system that our colleagues at Community Coalition in Los Angeles call “food apartheid.” Many have observed how the same chain store can offer vastly different inventory and service depending on the community in which it is located.

We recognized that this was more than a knowledge gap. In fact, the primary inequities we needed to address were rooted in the enduring, racialized power dynamics in public policy. Closing these gaps was going to require nontraditional methodologies in public health — methods drawn from the rich, longstanding traditions of community-driven change in communities of color. CCHE was launched to support local, community-based organizing and advocacy to directly confront the “blame game” and racial stereotypes driving a great deal of public policy and public conversation about weight and health. Twenty-two groups were chosen from hundreds of high-quality applicants to form a diverse, intergenerational community of practice. These communities, which span 16 cities and indigenous nations across the United States, are leading some of the field’s most innovative fights.

CCHE’s efforts resulted in 72 local policy advocacy victories. These efforts include:

  • Defeating regulations to hike transit fares, which would have threatened transportation access to quality food outlets and recreation services, and securing free and low-cost access to public transit for youth;
  • Adopting workplace breastfeeding policies and more supportive breastfeeding policies in hospitals;
  • Increasing public safety in parks and obtaining recreational programming for children and families with local parks and recreation departments;
  • Engaging store owners to provide healthier food options;
  • Securing funding and installation of streetlights and walking trails for community safety and increase walkability;
  • Winning community led re-zoning regulations with city planning departments that protects low income residents and small businesses to protect affordable spaces, services, and foods;
  • Advancing regulations with the Bureau of Land Management to ensure traditional and customary use practices are protected such as hunting and fishing rights for Native communities;
  • Securing thousands of acres for community gardens, farmer’s markets, playgrounds and recreational spaces with the support of public (city and county) and private entities (churches, organizations, stores);
  • Implementation of regulations for comprehensive wellness policies in schools and school districts that increase access to healthy foods for students, such as Federal Great Trays program guidelines,
  • Breakfast in the Classroom, and use of locally sourced foods in school meals; and
  • Increasing physical activity during school with Recess Before Lunch program with support from local school district.

And they’re winning.

In just five years — and with a little more than $5 million in cumulative financial support and capacity building assistance — these 22 grantees brought about sweeping changes in their communities. They increased organizing capacity, expanded community involvement and focused resources on advocacy initiatives informed by best practices that continue to make a measurable difference in people’s lives.

CLICK HERE to read the full report that was recently published.