By Alba Peña, MURP, National Health Foundation Senior Program Coordinator
South Los Angeles is one of the most disadvantaged, underserved communities in the nation. With over 1 million people lacking convenient access to healthy food or open space for physical activity, it’s not surprising that its residents suffer disproportionately from high rates of obesity (over 70% of adults) and other chronic diseases. While traditional approaches to health disparities are often reactive and respond to the symptoms of an unhealthy community, treating systems alone will not solve this growing epidemic. Inequalities in health outcomes must be addressed at the root causes, or what public health professionals refer to the ‘social determinants’ of health, which are a wider set of forces and systems that shape the conditions of one’s daily life. Young people in South Los Angeles have recognized that the biggest barriers to healthy lifestyles are issues of access to healthy food and access to safe, inviting parks and sidewalks that promote daily physical activity.
The "BUILD Health Challenge", a prestigious national program, recently announced the Youth-Driven Healthy South Los Angeles partnership as one of the grant awardees. The South LA partnership, which includes National HealthFoundation (NHF), the project lead, along with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) and California HospitalMedical Center (CHMC), will work together in developing a comprehensive community strategic plan for South Central and Central Alameda neighborhoods of South Los Angeles. The goal is to identify “upstream solutions” to the community’s health inequities. Upstream solutions are key community factors that promote healthy lifestyles. The plan will illustrate how such solutions must be implemented to improve the health of these two communities. NHF professionals and local youth trained as Community Health Liaisons will work together to tackle complex socio-health problems that encompass economic landscapes, regulation and public policy, the built environment, transportation and infrastructure, educational attainment, public safety and housing.
Following a comprehensive review of the community’s health related issues, the students and partners will engage the community to discuss opportunities for improvements. Local partners will then be convened to define roles and responsibilities to tackle the identified issues. The strategic plan will be available for review in Spring 2016.
Vice Admiral (VADM) Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. United States Surgeon General, speaking at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival pointed to the value adopting a wider view of health, “We have traditionally thought about health in a very narrow context. Health is far more broad than what hospitals and doctors and nurses do. So how do we improve health across America? We need to go into the communities and think about the factors that drive health.”