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Effective Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Initiatives Can Reduce Health Disparities

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Feb. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Local communities can be effective in preventing health disparities in such chronic diseases as cancer, diabetes and heart disease if they use healthy eating and active living initiatives that adhere to five strategic principles identified by leading national programs.

Communities are embracing healthy eating and active living initiatives across the nation. There are eight leading national programs which have worked with Disparity Reducing Advances Project (DRA Project) of the Institute for Alternative Futures to share what's working for low income communities and communities of color. These national programs are: Active Living by Design of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the California Endowment's Healthy Eating Active Communities Program; CDC'S Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health Across the U.S. (REACH U.S.); CDC's Steps to a Healthier US Program; Kaiser Permanente's Community Health Initiatives; Place Matters: Addressing the Root Causes of Health Disparities of the Health Policy Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Food and Fitness Initiative; and the YMCA's Activate America: Pioneering Healthier Communities.

The DRA project recommends communities and other key health organizations adopt healthy eating and active living initiatives to address health disparities. By following these five strategic principles, they will increase the probability of successful and sustainable outcomes.

The DRA Project has identified the following strategic principles for using healthy eating and active living to reduce health disparities. It is recommended that initiatives should:

-- Contribute to Healthy Community Conditions: Infrastructure matters. By contributing to comprehensive improvements to neighborhood safety, physical design, and built environment, initiatives can have a deep and long-lasting influence. Changes in infra-structure, including improved parks, community gardens, well designed pedestrian zones and commercial offerings of fresh affordable foods are worthwhile objectives.

-- Build Community Networks: By working to build community networks supporting local health whenever they enter a community, initiatives can have a greater impact over a longer period. Effective networking includes community leaders, role models, gate keepers, as well as program participants.

-- Be Framed Around Local Concerns and Benefits- Emphasizing local benefits including reduced crime, improved schools, socialization, economic development, family participation, and increased energy has greater resonance than focusing on fitness and nutrition alone.

-- Mitigate Access Barriers: Participants in community-based efforts can face additional challenges and expenses when accessing transportation, health facilities, childcare and grocery stores. Initiatives that help find solutions to these challenges are more successful.

-- Acknowledge and Leverage Cultural Strengths: Cultural empowerment can be a strong motivator in many communities and can contribute to the success of healthy eating and active living initiatives. This principle includes emphasizing culturally focused healthy diets and exercise patterns and using language-appropriate program materials.

The Disparity Reducing Advances Project (DRA Project) at the Institute for Alternative Futures is a multi-year effort to reduce future health disparities. The full report is available at:

SOURCE Institute for Alternative Futures
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