WHAT IS SOUTH LA HEAC?
Funded by The California Endowment, HEAC or Healthy Eating Active Communities is a state-wide initiative (6 sites) launched with the goal of reducing disparities in obesity and diabetes by addressing the growing childhood obesity and diabetes crisis in communities with limited access to healthy food and safe places to walk and play.
Frequent headlines remind us that childhood obesity is a national epidemic. More children in this country are obese than ever before, putting them at risk for countless chronic and life-threatening conditions previously faced only by adults. One place where these statistics are easily witnessed is South Los Angeles. The food environment in this primarily low-income community is characterized by few supermarkets with affordable and fresh produce and a prevalence of fast-food chains offering convenient, high calorie meals at low prices. South Los Angeles residents are also more likely to describe their neighborhood as unsafe, and less likely to report living near safe places where their children can play.
Unfortunately, the traditional response to this growing epidemic has emphasized education, support, and assistance for healthier behaviors without addressing the many environmental factors at play. We now know that comprehensive and innovative programs–involving all sectors of the community and combining educational efforts with environmental changes—are needed to fully tackle the childhood obesity epidemic in South Los Angeles and elsewhere. These programs must acknowledge and address the impact that poverty, the food environment, lack of safe places for physical activity, and other environmental factors have on soaring rates of childhood obesity.
Thankfully, these same environmental factors are also imminently changeable, and the South Los Angeles community represents a significant opportunity to showcase new programs designed to combine educational and environmental approaches. With programs that actively honor and incorporate residents of the communities they seek to change, individuals and families will learn not only how to make healthier choices, but also what role they can play in the transformation of their neighborhoods into ones where such choices are possible.
In South LA, we recognize that in order to make lasting change in our environment, it’s essential to work with our community partners. In order for HEAC-related environmental changes to be appropriate and responsive to community needs, advocacy is led by a working collaboration among local schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LAC DPH), and community groups (consisting of schools, public health professionals, clinics, local area health plans, community health promoters, and youth advocates, to name a few).
See the complete list of South LA HEAC Partners.
POLICY-BASED + COMMUNITY-DRIVEN WORK:
- Training + empowering youth, parents + community leaders about environmental influences affecting food choices, physical activity behavior, and the health consequences of poor diets + physical inactivity
- Creating a constituency of supporters for policies that improve food + physical activity environments through direct work with community members that builds a sense of pride + ownership of their neighborhoods
- Developing leadership roles for young adults living in resource-poor communities that often experience social, cultural + economic hardships. Youth involvement is a strong component of South LA HEAC. Its programs engage youth in meaningful work as they learn to advocate for safer, healthier neighborhoods
- Building a cadre of young citizens responsible for creating sustainable changes that reduce childhood obesity + diabetes in South LA
SOUTH LA HEAC MILESTONES + ACTIVITIES
- Smart Menu/La Salud Tiene Sabor, a menu-labeling project launched to empower the community to make smart, healthy food choices. Working with seven independently-owned restaurants at Mercado La Paloma, a public marketplace in South Los Angeles, the project provides nutrition information to consumers via menus + menu boards. Several restaurant vendors, realizing the importance of helping their community eat healthy, have since modified their menus to include healthier recipes.
- Physical Activity Ambassadors, a cadre of women trained to help their families + communities eat healthier + become more physically active, in partnership with the Network for a Healthy California. A series of workshops provided training on physical exercise, including simple yoga techniques + nutrition education. Upon completion of the workshops, Physical Activity Ambassadors implemented their new knowledge with families, friends and in their communities. Many went on to participate in additional physical activity + nutrition programs, with some leading sessions at Women in Motion, a health + wellness program in South Los Angeles.
- A Partnership between QueensCare Family Clinics + Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital that adapted ENERGY, the QueensCare pediatric weight management program for children with special needs + disabilities at Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital.
- Smart Snackers, an LA County Workplace Food Policy Campaign in collaboration with LA County Department of Public Health (LA DPH). South LA HEAC worked on program development, implementation + evaluation. It linked LAC DPH with HEAC evaluator Samuels & Associates to conduct pre-tests, identify appropriate workgroups (such as vendor outreach + social marketing) to advance the campaign, and develop evaluation tools.
- HEAC Youth Ambassadors, a public health + civic engagement + youth media + leadership development program in collaboration with Public Matters and The Accelerated School (TAS) that engages youth to transform the South Los Angeles food desert. During its first year, the collaboration produced Where Do I Get My Five?, a DVD of video shorts - student-written, shot and acted - about the lack of healthy food access in South LA, that has screened across the country. To date, HEAC Youth Ambassadors have played a central role in making over three local markets to feature healthier options. The videos on marketmakeovers.org, which illuminate the market makeover process, feature their hard work and demonstrate their commitment to changing their community for the better.