In 2015, National Health Foundation (NHF), California Hospital Medical Center (CHMC), and the Los Angeles County Department of PublicHealth (LACDPH) were awarded a BUILD Health Challenge planning grant to launch the BUILD Health LA initiative. The novel partnership had a specific goal: address the complex issues of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Turning our attention to Historic South Central Los Angeles, the partnership sought to identify upstream solutions that address health disparities and inequities in the neighborhood by addressing the root causes of these issues. A team of nine emerging youth leaders from three South LA high schools was selected as community liaisons and led the comprehensive data collection efforts that informed the solutions identified by a community action plan.
Following 23 key informant interviews, 51 references and 515 community surveys, the Youth-Driven Healthy South LA (BUILD Health LA) team identified a lack of access to healthy food, a lack of access to open space for physical activity, and safety concerns as the barriers to a healthy lifestyle for their community. The community liaisons, together with community partners, are now moving to implement innovative and upstream solutions that tackle these issues.
In a densely populated community unhealthy ‘junk’ food is available at an alarmingly disproportionate rate, prompting some to label South LA as a “food swamp.” A strategy to provide 16 corner store owners the opportunity to enroll in the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network’s (LURN) CommunityMarkets Purchasing Real and Affordable (COMPRA) Foods Program will infuse more healthy food options into the neighborhood. The purchasing program will allow market owners the opportunity to purchase fresh produce at a low-cost and thereby increase access to fresh fruit and produce for the community. The youth community health liaisons will identify the 16 markets and, with the support of the LACDPH, will help the markets to promote healthy food messaging at the stores.
With only .4 acres of park space per 100,000 residents, South Los Angeles stands in stark contrast with the recommended 3 acres per 1,000 people. Furthermore, residents report that the 10 parks and 4 pocket parks that do exist are often not maintained and are centers of crime making them unsafe for residents. The youth community health liaisons will take the lead in developing and advocating for park safety. With a keen eye on pedestrian and bicycle accessibility, the youth will conduct assessments to determine what types of infrastructure are needed to ensure all parks are safe and inviting to the community. The youth will then present their recommendations to local stakeholders to advocate for action.
The environmental scan further discovered that recreational facilities offer a limited number of affordable physical activity programs, and that the programs that are offered often have long waiting lists. Providing residents opportunities to engage in physical activity is crucial especially given the high numbers of obesity, diabetes and other disease related to sedentary lifestyles and inactivity. The project team will expand the capacity of a few local community-based organizations to offer additional physical activity programs for community members, specifically in park-poor areas of the neighborhood and areas with limited fitness programming, by connecting these organizations to California State University Northridge’s3WINS Fitness Program. These trained kinesiology students will teach free fitness classes that will be held outside in local parks near the host organizations. A Place Called Home and All People’s Community Center will outreach to residents to participate in these new programs.
With the plan in place, the youth and the community partners share a common goal: getting the word out about the healthy changes in the neighborhood. Currently, the community is saturated with unhealthy food messages on billboards, buses and street corners but the youth and the project partners have identified more than 70 service organizations that have regular contact with residents and could help maximize the awareness of and participation in this program. The youth will develop a comprehensive marketing campaign and, together with the project partners, will raise awareness of the health-related improvements in their community. The sustainability of policy, systems and the health of their neighbors are depending on their ability to connect residents to the fresh produce, safe parks and opportunities for fun physical activity sprouting up in their community.