By Adam Becker, PhD, MPH
Executive Director, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children
Reflecting on CLOCC’s 15th year, it was a whirlwind of successes and challenges for the field of childhood obesity prevention and for all those who fight for our children’s healthy futures. In 2017, both political discourse and administrative actions (or inactions!) were enough to overwhelm any public health advocate. Yet, here in Chicago, our obesity prevention community stayed the course, fighting for the improvements in our neighborhoods, institutions, and local and state policies that help kids to lead active and healthy lives.
As our consortium continues to make progress in healthy lifestyle education, environmental change, and local and statewide advocacy, we have the opportunity to look further “upstream” to some of the more fundamental root causes of obesity in an effort to identify the next wave of obesity prevention strategies. This opportunity coincides with heightened local and national attention to health equity and social determinants of health such as immigration, education, poverty and racism. All of these deeply debated social constructs have an impact on health and on people’s ability to eat healthy and be active where they live, work, learn, and play. CLOCC staff and leadership groups (the Executive Committee and External Advisory Board) have been discussing strategies we might deploy to help us as a collective consider how we can expand our obesity prevention focus to include these important factors. We know that many of you already concentrate on solving some of these critical public health issues and we are excited to work with both new and existing partners to understand and explore how these social determinants of health and obesity can be identified and addressed at all levels.
As we look to the future, I would also like to reflect on our Consortium’s recent accomplishments. I draw strength and inspiration from the progress that we have made together and I hope you will as well. As always, CLOCC staff is humbled and proud of all we have done together in the past 15 years. Here are just a few of the things we accomplished together in 2017:
- CLOCC launched the Serve Chicago Kids Better campaign to address the lack of healthy options in local restaurant kids’ meals. Fact sheets and tools were developed to highlight the scope of the issue and local parents formed an advisory group. On September 6th, a resolution (R2017-729) was introduced in City Council calling for a subject matter hearing in the Health and Environmental Protection Committee, intended to elevate the discussion around restaurant kids’ meals and explore policy options to make them healthier. So far, 10 Council members have agreed to sign on with additional commitments to circulate to members of the Black Caucus, Latino Caucus and Progressive Caucus.
- The Healthy Corner Store component of the Healthy HotSpot initiative, supported by the Partnerships to Improve Community Health project, achieved its goal of recruiting and maintaining 25 healthy corner stores, making fresh fruits, vegetables and additional food items available in communities with limited or no access to full-service grocery stores. CLOCC staff and partners conducted 18 in-store healthy food tastings, six community trainings, and in-store trainings on promotion, marketing, and value-added products (e.g., making smoothies from fruits and vegetables). Relationships with several of the participating healthy corners stores are continuing as part of the Consortium’s work to improve distribution of healthy, affordable, high quality produce in stores throughout Chicagoland. In Chicago, the recently established Chicago Healthy Corner Store Network, including CLOCC and partners Inter-City Muslim Action Network and the Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion, is exploring ways to extend produce distribution to healthy corner stores in the city.
- The Consortium’s +Network, coordinated by CLOCC staff, worked closely with Chicago Public Schools, guiding 15 schools to achieve 11 new criteria under the Healthy CPS standards and sustaining an additional 32 criteria across the group. The most common LearnWELL criteria that schools were able to achieve were: Nutrition Education, Recess, and Healthy Celebrations. The School Leadership criteria was achieved in eight schools and will continue to be a main focus of the work during the 2017-2018 school year. The success of the +Network has motivated CPS to generate similar networks to support the other badges of Healthy CPS, including Chronic Disease and Sexual Health.
- CLOCC staff introduced an updated Neighborhood Walkability Assessment Tool (NWAT) in 2016, and this past year CLOCC partners took it to the streets as a component of multiple Neighborhood Walkability Initiatives. Led by the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC), Chinatown residents were able to document the challenges and opportunities within the pedestrian infrastructure of their community, resulting in more than 90 block and intersection assessments which have been uploaded, analyzed and have draft results available. CLOCC-led walkability assessment trainings have also been incorporated as a key tactic within comprehensive neighborhood health evaluations in Little Village and Rogers Park, and future walkability work is slated to take place in Riverdale.
- CLOCC staff continues to support hospitals working to achieve Baby Friendly status. In February, Rush University Medical Center became Chicago’s fourth – and largest – labor and delivery center to earn the designation. As of this writing, six Chicago hospitals are in the fourth and final phase of the Baby-Friendly pathway.
- Late in 2017, CLOCC kicked off planning for Chicago Activating Neighborhood Environments for Health and Wellness (Chicago ANEHW), which will continue into September 2019. Focused around Chicago parks in three distinct regions of the City, this project aims to improve healthy, active living through educational and environmental interventions
- Our Physical Activity and Built Environment Interest Group held a successful pilot event to help community residents and organizations make and build on connections between physical activity and the built environment. Held in Rogers Park, this inaugural event was attended by more than 40 adults and 80 children. Participating city-wide partners included PlayStreets, Chicago Bike Ambassadors, Active Transportation Alliance, and the Chicago Park District. One of the outcomes of this event was the development of a community agenda for increasing physical activity in Rogers Park being led by Howard Area Community Center.
An exciting year had a fitting exclamation point in the celebration of CLOCC’s 15th Anniversary at the Consortium’s Winter Quarterly Meeting on December 7. We were especially grateful for those who submitted nominees for the CLOCC 15th Anniversary Childhood Obesity Prevention Hall of Fame, for the partners who developed posters and joined us in person to showcase their recent and ongoing obesity-prevention work, and for those were on hand at the meeting to help open the cover on the next chapters of the Consortium’s obesity-prevention journey.
We enter 2018 with renewed vigor and a great deal of optimism that, together, we can ensure the children of Chicago and beyond will enjoy a healthy future and the opportunity to reach their full potential.
We wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!
Adam B. Becker, PhD, MPH