It’s not often we get a chance to get to know a Leader working not just within one state on a grassroots level, but on the community and state levels as well. Leader Andrea Ridgway embodies just that—with more than 20 years of experience in public health, Andrea started out as a registered dietitian and educator, and also founded and served on numerous health and obesity-related coalitions and groups to move change forward in Arkansas. Read on to learn more about Andrea, and don’t forget that you can directly message her and connect through her PreventObesity.net profile page.
Name: Andrea Ridgway, MS, RD, LD, CDE
Organization: Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
As a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator by profession, my first 20 years of work experience were spent in clinical education in various hospitals. I was fortunate to make a move to public health, and began working with the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) community health development initiative, called Hometown Health Improvement, in 2001. I found myself leading a statewide initiative to make Arkansas healthier, working with communities of all sizes and readiness levels. In 2002, I was privileged to be a part of an internal working group asked to draft legislation to address the crisis of childhood obesity in Arkansas. The resulting legislation, Act 1220 of 2003, was passed by the Arkansas General Assembly and had a goal of positively changing the school environment to encourage healthy behaviors.
In spite of a few modifications to the law in 2007, Act 1220 remains a major influence on activities in Arkansas to positively affect childhood obesity. My branch in the ADH coordinates the Community Health Nurse Specialists and the Community Health Promotion Specialists (CHPS) who work to improve the health of school children in Arkansas. The CHPS specifically work with schools to support Act 1220 and address the statewide childhood obesity problem.
I was also fortunate to attend the first Southern Obesity Summit in 2007 in Little Rock and as a result, am a founding member of the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention (ArCOP). As the 2014-15 chair of ArCOP, we are stronger than ever and leading the charge against all obesity in Arkansas through our inaugural program--Growing Healthy Communities. The mission of the coalition is to improve the health of all Arkansas communities by increasing physical activity and access to affordable, healthy foods. We accomplish this mission through encouraging communities to make policy and environmental changes to support healthy living. I am inspired every day by the many communities throughout Arkansas who have embraced this process and continually work to improve their communities.
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
As chair of ArCOP, I am currently involved with providing technical assistance and support to more than 50 communities throughout the state in making policy, systems and environmental changes to support increased access to healthy foods and access to physical activity. Many of the communities have made positive changes in schools and early childhood programs, such as safer, more walkable communities; Complete Streets policies; joint use agreements to increase access to physical activity areas; implementation of nutrition standards; increased use of locally grown produce in school meal programs; alternate breakfast options; and integrating physical activity into learning. According to the evaluation of Act 1220, Arkansas has experienced a leveling of childhood obesity rates.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
The combination of the work of the Hometown Health Initiative and ArCOP in many Arkansas communities has had an exponential effect on the work toward a healthier Arkansas. Leading both of these initiatives simultaneously has had a profound effect on the state’s health issues, including childhood obesity.
Who is your role model in your work?
I can’t really pinpoint one role model. We have so many great community and state partners that have committed themselves to healthier communities, including several mayors who have really stepped out to support these initiatives. We also have great volunteers on the executive team of ArCOP who offer their technical expertise to training and mentoring our communities. I also have a great Hometown Health Initiative staff who never tire of this endless and often thankless work in supporting their communities. My hat goes off to all these people!
What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up?
My grandfather had a large garden on my family’s property when I was growing up, and he would leave various fruits and vegetables in our garage. I remember he would scratch my name in the watermelons.
Each week, our own Prarthana Gurung speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Prarthana’s profile and contact her.