Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Teens Bring Mini-Farm Stands to the Classroom, Reduce Food Waste in the Process

Youth engagement provides young people with the opportunity to develop leadership skills and address challenges they face head-on in their own communities. For the past three years, National Health Foundation’s Health Academy has been working alongside youth from Historic South Central Los Angeles to address upstream barriers to healthy weight such as access to healthy food in their community. NHF Health Academy’s “Legion of Health” youth team is one of four teams in the program that engaged in youth participatory action research to identify issues impacting access to healthy food and food waste and develop and implement solutions to tackle those barriers. Here is one example of their success.

In the fall of 2014, Los Angeles Unified School District implemented Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC), a program that enables students to eat breakfast provided by the school in their classrooms rather than before they get to school. This was especially important at Thomas Jefferson High School where the surrounding community is labeled a food desert1 and access to healthy foods is an extreme challenge. Living in a “food desert” means that at least one third of the residents live more than one mile from a grocery store and in a dense urban environment, that is a significant barrier. In addition, those grocery stores serve significantly more people than in areas with better access. A 2010 Community Health Councils report indicated that South Los Angeles’s 60 full-service grocery stores serve approximately 22,156 residents each. In comparison, West LA’s 57 grocery stores each serve approximately half the number of residents. Layer onto this story the fact that 60% of South Los Angeles eateries are fast food restaurants. Clearly, BIC was an essential program providing increased access to fresh, healthy foods and students needed to take greater advantage of this opportunity. Within these statistics, the Legion of Health youth team saw an opportunity to make real impact.

As the Legion of Health team investigated the BIC program, they discovered that one of the unintended consequences was an increase in food waste, specifically the fruit accompanying the breakfast meal. A meeting and tour of the cafeteria with the Cafeteria Manager gave the youth real insight into the actual volume of food waste. The youth team began re-envisioning the BIC program as a way to encourage consumption by recovering the food and offering it as a snack to students throughout the day. This option would reducing food waste and minimize cost of healthy snacks. Legion of Health developed a pilot project to provide healthy snacks throughout the day at no cost to students by saving the surplus of fruit and/or non-perishable food items from the BIC program. Youth placed decorative baskets in classrooms and set uneaten food from BIC into the basket. Legion of Health named their project “Health Academy Mini-Farm Stand” and designed baskets to hold the fruit in classrooms. Legion of Health partnered with several of their high school teachers to implement the pilot project in select classrooms. Youth also developed a tracking system to record the number of students that grabbed a snack. Legion of Health hypothesized that students would consume all the items by the end of each school day.

The project findings proved the Legion of Health’s hypothesis to be correct: all food from the farm stand baskets were consumed by the end of each school day. Legion of Health presented these findings to school administration and advocated for school-wide implementation. School leaders agreed to implement the project school-wide so that every classroom would have a “Health Academy Mini-Farm Stand” basket and students would have access to healthy food anytime of the school day in any classroom on campus. Since school-wide implementation, the Cafeteria Manager is reporting a near complete reduction of food waste from BIC.

Legion of Health recently expanded the “Health Academy Mini-Farm Stand” project to Nava College Prep Academy. Legion of Health presented the benefits of the baskets to students and staff along with delivering baskets to each of the classrooms. This past school year, Legion of Health met with Laura Benavides Co-Director of LAUSD Food Services who applauded the youth’s efforts. In the coming year, Health Academy’s Legion of Health will seek out partnerships at other schools to expand the program in hopes of ultimately meeting with the LAUSD School Board to advocate for district-wide implementation.

[1]Free and Reduced Meal,’ Analysis, Measurement, & Accountability Reporting Division. California Department of Education, 2013; http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/cpns/Documents/SNAP-Ed%20FFY%2015%20Att%201%20FRPM%202013%2005%2024.pdf

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

NHF Seeks KaBOOM! Funding to Further their BUILD Health Challenge Efforts

Playing is an essential part of development for young children. Its benefits go beyond learning to include better health and improved social skills. However, not every child lives in a community with enough accessible, safe, outdoor space to play.
The national nonprofit KaBOOM! is dedicated to bringing balanced and active play in the daily lives of all children. Their latest “play challenge” will award $1 million in prizes to communities that provide the best ideas to increase the playability of their neighborhood. For this challenge, there is one caveat, the idea to increase playability must be implemented in a nontraditional space, such as a sidewalk, vacant lot, bus stop, or street.
Like KaBOOM!, National Health Foundation (NHF) realizes that in some communities, a nontraditional approach is often necessary. Over the last year, NHF, in partnership with the California Medical Center and the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, has conducted an environmental scan of the Historic South Los Angeles community. Among a wide range of identified health disparities and poor social determinants of health this community faces, lack of safe, open play space is one of community residents’ greatest concerns. After carefully evaluating the needs of the community and receiving input from a team of South LA high school youth leaders, a robust community action plan was created to address this lack of safe, open space in Historic South LA, along with the lack of access to healthy food.
The community action plan will address the lack of safe, open space through a tested method, partnership with the 100 Citizens program, which places kinesiology students from local universities in local communities to facilitate exercise programs. There is demonstrated need for this partnership. Local organizations that offer physical activity programming have long waiting lists and too few resources to meet the demand. Implementation of these partnerships would take place in small pocket parks that currently have no programming. Through this action plan, NHF and its partners will support residents in taking advantage of their parks. 
In July, NHF’s KaBOOM! playability idea was selected as one of the top 200 ideas submitted to the Play Everywhere Challenge. In line with the strategies of the action plan, NHF proposed to, in collaboration with Council District 9 and five youth leaders from a local high school, design a maze that will highlight historic events of South Central on the sidewalk in frontof the Constituent Center located on Central Avenue. Additionally, creative seating will be installed that will be abstract in shape, such as concrete orbs, or cylinders. The project will provide an opportunity to play and learn in a space that is safe and close to community resources, the Council District’s Constituent Resource Center on Central Avenue.  Here there is high pedestrian traffic. As a main corridor of the community, high pedestrian traffic will bring many children through the maze to play. NHF’s KaBOOM! submission is building on the work already underway to enhance the local community’s physical environment and invite children and adults alike to get more physically active.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Zip Codes as Indicators ... of Actively Engaged Communities


By Danielle Cameron, Chief Strategy Officer for National Health Foundation

Too many times we have heard how zip codes have a greater impact on individuals’ health than their genes; usually in the negative sense. Social determinants of health – conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play – can have wide ranging impact on health risks and outcomes.[i] But these zip codes facing troublesome social determinants of health have an opportunity to rise up and tackle these challenges head-on so that these zip codes are no longer synonymous with poor health, but rather signify some of the most willful, engaged communities working together to improve their environment and collective health.

Rather than viewed for their economic policies, environmental circumstances, social norms, or educational experiences that poorly impact health, these zip codes often indicate the presence of a powerful community of organizers, advocates and change agents. They are shifting the tide in terms of population health – in their own neighborhoods. It’s these zip codes where hospitals, health plans and community-based organizations should be looking to establish multi-sector partnership that leverage local resources and ambition to create the most impactful change.

NHF has had just that experience in South Los Angeles.

According to the ‘Mapping LA’ project of the Los Angeles Times, South Los Angeles is a 51 square-mile region encompassing 28 neighborhoods that are home to more than 749,000 residents and some of the most troublesome zip codes in Los Angeles County.

For the past four years, NHF has been working in a handful of these zip codes with a generation of engaged teens, learning to bring about dramatic changes in their community and succeeding! In particular, they are changing the way South Los Angeles residents view their physical environments, personal health practices, the healthy development of their children, as a means of improving their overall health and wellbeing.

Through a series of student-led programs that emphasize information gathering as well as peer and public input, healthy changes are afoot in a zip code that otherwise has many negative associations.

At Jefferson High School, National Health Foundation’sHealth Academy, a student-led, healthy change initiative has, over the past three years, implemented such ground breaking ideas as a hydration station offering fresh water as an alternative to sodas and juices, reconfigured the lunch room so that all students have time to get lunch and eat it, versus having to go to the snack shop to buy sugary treats to replace meals, and have tested and introduced healthy meal options that are now on the lunch menu. Perhaps the biggest victory was the creation of classroom-based mini farm stands where students can help themselves to a piece of fresh fruit when needed. The initiative caught the eye of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s food services director who acknowledged the thoughtful use of fruit left over from breakfast service, the reduction of food waste, and the increase in opportunity for students to snack on healthy fruits. The district is considering expanding the program to other LAUSD school sites.

Through another project, NHF’s BUILD Health Challenge grant in collaboration with California Hospital Medical Center and the LA County Department of Public Health, student ”Community Health Liaisons” spent several months interviewing residents about their perceptions and needs as they relate to their physical environment. Residents voiced concerns ranging from a need for safe, open spaces for play and exercise, to a desire to walk more and have more opportunities to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. The partnership took the information gathered and formulated a Community-Driven Action Plan for Historic South Central. The purpose of the plan will be to implement upstream, meaning preventative rather than curative, solutions to the health issues faced by the community. By lowering or even eliminating some of the social and environmental barriers to health, the team hopes that the community will defy the current statistics that point to lower life expectancy and a higher than average rate of preventable illnesses.

As part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Street’s Initiative, another group of inspired students championed the creation of a Walking Corridor along Central Avenue. Through the use of clever wayfinding signage, the community can now see how far the nearest transit, entertainment, shopping and recreational facilities are located on foot. The signage, unveiled during a community event in May, has been met with the resounding approval of the community and visitors alike.

The community is seeing first-hand that change is most meaningful when it comes from within and is possible when it is led by the energy and passion of one of its most valuable assets: its youth. The remarkable success of these empowered and engaged youth is a reflection of a new and brighter outlook in the zip codes of South Los Angeles.

[i] World Health Organization