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Building a Coalition to Encourage the Healthy Choices to Become the Norm



Jennifer Trott is the Associate Director for the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition (COPC). Jennifer started out in Washington, D.C. after grad school working on Robert Wood Johnson Foundation hospital quality improvement projects focusing on disparities in health care. The projects were successful because they utilized teams of people across the health care spectrum. “We were all about using the evidence base to identify potential strategies, measuring to see what worked, and scaling up to disseminate successes far and wide. We were able to inform national standards and policies with our work on the ground,” said Jennifer. Jennifer moved to Washington State and wanted to find a similar job that grabbed the research to solve policy and systems problems. “I think that obesity is the most daunting problem that I could have found,” said Jennifer. “The Coalition approached me and now I work with them.”

 COPC is a statewide coalition in Washington that is comprised of a wide array of more than 50 member organizations. COPC came together eight years ago, and Jennifer has been on board for more than four years now. COPC wanted to do something about the obesity crisis that would be sustainable and have real impact. “Traditionally, there is a lot of direct intervention work that goes on in obesity prevention. For example, there is a good deal of investment in one-on-one programs and counseling to help roll back obesity rates,” said Jennifer. “We think that these programs, along with a good doctor-patient relationship are important; however, we also know that our environment plays a major role in our ability to continually make healthy choices on a daily basis.” Jennifer further explains that healthy choices have been engineered out of society, “The places where we work, learn and play often work against our health rather than for it. In most places, unhealthy foods are easier to get ahold of and it’s easier to be inactive. That’s where we come in.”

 COPC believes that childhood obesity is a multi-faceted problem with no single solution. That’s why the Coalition often refers to its strategies as ‘healthy communities work.’ “Our work really crosses all sectors, all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities. If you look at our Coalition membership list, it is made up of organizations that touch all different aspects of prevention – from health advocates to transportation groups and parks departments, and many more. We’re all part of a dialogue to identify what policies and systems changes can improve the health of our state,” said Jennifer.

 Dialogue is important when it comes to obesity. This year the Coalition was presented with a major opportunity to influence a 16-year investment in the state’s transportation systems. “We know that walking and biking to school can provide kids with much of their daily activity requirement to stay fit and healthy, and to be more alert at school.” The Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition also knew that only 1 in 4 eligible Safe Routes to School grant applications to improve infrastructure receive funding in Washington state. The 16-year Transportation Revenue Package was an opportunity to have a dialogue with health advocates and bike and pedestrian members about how to change that. The strong partnerships of the Coalition proved powerful in conversations with stakeholders and legislators.

 “Some people would ask what childhood obesity has to do with transportation, but through our work with our transportation partners, I am glad to say that is less frequently the case in Washington now,” said Jennifer. “As a Coalition, the biggest successes of the year were the health wins that were woven into the transportation package. We were able to double investments in Safe Routes to School in our state, and secure hundreds of millions of dollars for biking and walking projects and complete streets.” That translates to more families having the infrastructure necessary to safely bike and walk. “These are investments that can be transformative for the health and economies of entire communities. It’s a win for everyone,” Jennifer explained.

 Jennifer describes herself as falling into obesity prevention work, though the topic has a lot of personal meaning to her since she found eating right to be challenging as a youth. “I was looking for meaningful work that I could relate to, and the kind of public health challenge that seemed insurmountable, but that could be chipped away at if the right people got together at the right table.” Her hope is that the successes of the Coalition spread beyond Washington. “We have learned so much from others across the country, and whenever we can be a leader on a solution it becomes really exciting,” Jennifer said.

 The movement seems to be building momentum. Jennifer feels like her job gets easier every day because of the progress that advocates are making across the country. “When the work that we are doing spreads and is modeled by others or talked about in the media, it makes my job that much easier,” said Jennifer. “Hopefully we will get to the point that people expect healthy options to be the norm where they work, live, learn and play. We want to see the day when a healthy high school lunch tray, or a water bottle filling station in an elementary school is not a novelty, and we will.”