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Exploring the Effectiveness of Voices for Healthy Kids Initiative

Over the past three years the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition has served as an evaluation partner for the Voices for Healthy Kids initiative. Center team members presented a symposium on the Voices for Healthy Kids evaluation at the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Conference in Victoria, British Columbia.


kidssmilingonground.jpgBy Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition

The Voices for Healthy Kids initiative is conducted through a partnership of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association, which aims to influence state and local policies addressing childhood obesity prevention. The initiative provides funding, training, and technical assistance to advocacy groups across several nutrition and physical activity topic areas throughout the U.S. These advocacy groups run campaigns to influence local- and state- level policies.

The Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, along with The Center for Public Program Evaluation, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Portland State University, Barker Bi-Coastal Health Consultants, Inc., and Synthesis Professional Services, Inc., has served as external evaluators for this initiative for the past three years. The Center focused their evaluation on the provision and tracking of technical assistance in year one, assessment of and tools for advocacy readiness in year two, and examining lessons learned in year three. The Center’s Executive Director Dr. Amy Yaroch, Senior Research Scientist Dr. Courtney Pinard, Research Scientist Dr. Eric Calloway and Project Manager Hollyanne Fricke presented a symposium on the Voices for Healthy Kids evaluation, titled "Advocacy Readiness, Technical Assistance, and Health Equity in a Grassroots Advocacy Initiative Targeting State and Local Policies to Prevent Childhood Obesity in the United States (U.S.)," at the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Conference in Victoria, British Columbia on June 8.

This symposium provided an introductory overview of the Voices for Healthy Kids initiative and the evaluation component, as well as three presentations:

  • Lessons Learned From the Field: Practical Considerations in Advocacy Readiness for an Obesity Prevention Initiative

This presentation described the important planning tasks necessary for preparing a health advocacy campaign, which included forty-two activities grouped in four categories: collecting information, building organizational capacity, developing advocacy strategies, and considerations related to health equity and community engagement. Campaign leaders and advocacy experts completed interviews from which barriers and facilitators were identified. The Center compiled and shared the lessons learned from the field, which were practical in nature and broadly applicable to public health policy advocacy.

  • Evaluation of Provision and Receipt of Technical Assistance in a Policy Advocacy Initiative to Address Childhood Obesity Prevention in the U.S.

This presentation described technical assistance (TA) from both provider and recipient perspectives. In this initiative, grantees typically sought out TA once or twice a month, noting it was especially crucial in message research and polling, media advocacy/communications, and legal. Capturing the utility of different types of TA provided in a large policy advocacy campaign provides insights and lessons learned with regard to training, tools, and resources that were helpful in developing successful campaigns to address childhood obesity prevention.

  • Health Equity Considerations in Addressing Childhood Obesity Prevention through a Policy Advocacy Initiative

This presentation described best practices for incorporating health equity into a childhood obesity prevention policy advocacy initiative, focusing on barriers and facilitators to establishing and sustaining relationships with intended impacted communities (e.g., low-income, racial ethnic groups at higher risk for obesity). Four themes emerged during interviews with practicing advocates and advocacy/equity experts: (1) aligning campaign objectives with intended impacted communities’ needs; (2) avoiding “overload” on communities; (3) establishing authentic community participation; and (4) maintaining long-term community involvement. A proposed ‘screener’ for self- or funder-assessment of health equity considerations was also presented. The findings were applicable to a wider audience, including advocates, researchers, funders, and other stakeholders, and similar initiatives should consider adopting policies and practices that authentically engage their intended impacted communities to ensure equitable and sustainable initiatives, especially in relation to health promoting behaviors, including nutrition and physical activity. 

Discussant Adrian Bauman from the University of Sydney provided a short overview and international perspective to advocacy, as well as moderated general discussion.