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California’s LEAN Machine


For a quarter-century, California Project LEAN has been helping residents of the Golden State get the information and resources they need to be healthier. The Inside Track spoke with Program Manager Katherine Hawksworth, a Leader, to find out more about how the project has taught local officials, activists, kids and parents alike to successfully play the healthy “policy game.”

Project LEAN is a program of the California-based Public Health Institute. It began as a pilot project in the Bay Area in the late 1980s, using social marketing to promote low-fat eating. From there, it has grown to encompass a variety of grassroots health advocacy programs, working with kids, parents, teachers, school administrators and local officials.

Getting both kids and their parents engaged is a particular focus. In training sessions, Project LEAN has participants play a “policy game” so they can learn four steps to changing a school environment (pick a problem; identify the policy players; make an action plan; evaluate and celebrate).

“With that in mind, not having to reinvent the wheel, we’ve used it to develop our Parents in Action guide to advance local school wellness policy,” Hawksworth explained. Trainers use parent lesson plans to successfully engage moms and dads.

This kind of training has helped foster transformational change in lower-income and rural communities in the state. Hawksworth noted that parents who have participated in the training have gone on to sit on wellness councils or even run for school board seats themselves. “We’re really activating parents to lift their voices up,” she said.

In rural parts of the state, Project LEAN has been a key provider of technical help on food and beverage standards. Working on a Community Transformation Grant funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through California for Health over the past three years, Hawksworth said, the project helped 12 counties formulate 50 policies that have been put to use in various settings, from schools to public buildings to offices. Among others, these include:

  •  Local wellness policies limiting flavored milk and sports drinks in schools;
  • Water access and promotion policies, including testing and maintenance;
  • Healthy meeting standards, better vending machine offerings, and good procurement practices for workplaces and community-based organizations;
  • Providing language that county officials could use to promote wellness.

Hawksworth noted that another key to Project LEAN’s success is its good partnerships with organizations such as the California School Boards Association. “When you work with key stakeholders, then good change can happen,” she said.

Donna Brutkowski authored this report.