New NLC Report Highlights Six City-School Partnerships to Combat Childhood Obesity

May 3, 2010

 

A new report features the experiences of six communities where city and school district leaders partnered in the development of community-wide wellness plans.

Published by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the report on "Community Wellness: Comprehensive City-School Strategies to Reduce Childhood Obesity" focuses on lessons learned by cities that participated in a 2007-08 technical assistance project.

NLC and AASA sponsored the City and School Leaders Collaborating on Local Wellness Planning project with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) through its Leadership for Healthy Communities national program. Project cities included Charleston, S.C.; Jackson, Tenn.; La Mesa, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; San Antonio; and Savannah, Ga.

Participating cities sought to develop and implement local wellness strategies to combat childhood obesity. The project emphasized policy change and collaboration over single-program responses, and created new opportunities for municipal and school leadership to open a dialogue on how to build upon existing wellness programs and policies.

In particular, the project was designed to help cities use federally-mandated school wellness policies as the launchpad for the development of broader community wellness plans. In each case, mayors and superintendents played critical roles in forming and sustaining local collaborations among diverse stakeholders.

The Community Wellness report describes the most noteworthy initiatives these cities launched to promote health and wellness in their communities, including, but not limited to efforts undertaken by teams of municipal and school district officials as part of the NLC-AASA project. Examples of progress include:

Jackson: "Jumpstart Jackson," a community wellness coalition, was created by the city and school district with the goal of making Jackson the "healthiest community in Tennessee." The coalition has developed community gardens, promoted healthy options at local restaurants and created additional recreational opportunities for children and families. It was also the motivation for a regional wellness policy which calls on the city and county to improve pedestrian access to schools, support school health services and make improvements to city streets to promote physical activity.

Oakland: The City of Oakland, through its Office of Parks and Recreation, is expanding the range of healthy food choices available to residents in disadvantaged neighborhoods by establishing community gardens and urban "community market farms." Additionally, the city has provided loans to food co-ops opening in underserved areas, while the school district has worked with several community organizations to establish school gardens, produce stands and farm-to-school programs at local elementary schools.

Savannah: With the support of Mayor Otis Johnson, the City of Savannah created "Healthy Savannah," a broad-based coalition that brings together more than 100 leaders from the city, school district, county and community organizations. The coalition has helped each of its partners in its own way, assisting the Savannah-Chatham Public School System in changing policies around vending machines and fitness programs, expanding access to community gardens and farmers' markets and providing input as the city updates its Civic Master Plan.

The report also highlights city stories from Charleston, La Mesa and San Antonio, including examples of how local leaders are designing more pedestrian- and bike-friendly communities and promoting physical activity in school and during out-of-school time.

Details: Download Community Wellness: Comprehensive City-School Strategies to Reduce Childhood Obesity or contact Leon Andrews at (202) 626-3039 orandrews@nlc.org.

Lessons Learned Through the City and School Leaders Collaborating on Local Wellness Planning Project

NLC and AASA drew several key lessons from the experiences of the six project cities. The following factors were especially critical to the success of local teams in developing strong policies and plans for reducing childhood obesity:

Importance of high level leadership: The city stories in this report underscore the importance of high-level leadership by the mayor and superintendent to anchor a comprehensive local wellness strategy, engage public, private and community partners and hold everyone accountable for improving outcomes.

A shared, city-wide vision for community wellness: A key element for success is a shared citywide vision for wellness that aligns existing programs and policies.

Broad-based partnerships with a diverse group of stakeholders: A corollary to having a shared vision is the need to engage a diverse coalition of stakeholders to advance the work.

The use of data to set goals and measure progress: Once a planning team is in place, a useful first step in determining priorities, goals and strategies is gathering data to define the scope of the challenge.

A strategy built upon existing local assets and resources: The existence of high-quality programs already operating in the community offered project cities another important local asset upon which to build.

Efforts to tap and blend the range of funding sources that can be used to promote wellness: Several cities utilized local, state and federal funding sources to put tangible resources behind their wellness initiatives.

Communities Help Launch National Physical Activity Plan

Today, a broad network of organizations will launch the National Physical Activity Plan with kick-off events in Washington, D.C., and communities across the country. Cities, towns, schools and community organizations are launching the plan with activities of their own.

The plan will encourage Americans to be more physically active, reduce barriers to inactivity and encourage communities and institutions to provide opportunities for healthy living. Launch Day acts on the challenge of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, which is aimed at ending childhood obesity.

By holding launch events, cities will tap into the momentum of a comprehensive national initiative as people living in every part of the U.S. get active to kick off the National Physical Activity Plan.

Launch events may include run/walks, cycling or swim events, open gym days, trail walks, tricycle races, dog walks or ball games - anything that celebrates and encourages physical activity and exercise - and will help demonstrate the need for policies that support active lifestyles in all communities.

For more information about the National Physical Activity Plan and launch day events, visit www.PhysicalActivityPlan.org.