Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

October 28, 2013

Tackling obesity: Foundations and nonprofits go local for greater impact

Local nonprofits partner with food markets to provide low-income areas with access to fresh food. © Shutterstock

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Garth Graham

Even as childhood obesity rates are starting to level off in this country, 5 five percent of American children and teens remain severely obese, according to new information from the American Heart Association. Individuals in low-income communities across the nation are statistically more likely to suffer from obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and heart conditions. 

As obesity rates have increased in the United States, we have been provided a broader view to see and understand the factors that multiply the issue, from genetics to food access. And, unfortunately, it’s a fact that individuals living in low-income communities eat greater amounts of cheap, unhealthy foods, contributing greatly to the public health crisis. 

Driving collaboration—Community by community

Recently, the Aetna Foundation sponsored an international meeting on global health and wellness. The meeting brought together 100 of the most notable national and international experts on obesity and chronic disease. As experts discussed successful efforts to combat obesity, it became clear that local programs are having a significant impact in changing people’s health across the U.S.

As a physician and president of the Aetna Foundation, I’m continuously reminded of the duty we have to help advance the health of children and adults. Over the years, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have supported disease prevention programs, helped revitalize neighborhoods, provided aid to those in need and listened to the varied voices that shape our community and our nation.

Today, as we work to increase the health and quality of care for individuals and communities, we also focus our energy on possibilities that may lead to meaningful improvements in health and the health care system. Foundations play a vital role in making this happen, with their ability to bring together experts and assets to address the preventive and individualized care that promotes health and wellness. 

Foundations can utilize grant support and research to serve as catalysts for sharing information, collecting data and bridging partners with a common goal in a way that conventional businesses and other nonprofits cannot. We operate in an area that makes it possible to bring together policy makers, businesses, health professionals and community nonprofits to look holistically at the issue at hand and together develop the changes necessary for positive health outcomes. 

Local focus 

Along with the work of foundations and nonprofits on a national level, the Aetna Foundation provides grant support to a number of local nonprofits implementing programs in low-income communities to increase access to healthy, fresh foods. Take, for example, the Double Up Food Bucks program from the Fair Food Network helps recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) make the most nutritious use of their food stamps. Started in 2009 as a pilot project at five Detroit farmers’ markets, the program has expanded to more than 150 markets throughout Michigan. Through this program, SNAP recipients can double their purchasing power at participating farmers' markets to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. Through a study we supported by Fair Food Network and several similar organizations, we determined that incentive-based programs are effective at promoting healthier eating habits.

In Brooklyn, United Community Centers’ East New York Farms project has significantly increased the availability of fresh produce. In this low-income neighborhood, the project supports two community-run farmers’ markets, manages two urban farms and provides resources and horticultural know-how to expand the number of community gardens and backyard vegetable beds.

On the other side of the country, Special Service for Groups has launched a program to enroll low-income residents of several Asian neighborhoods in their own Community Service Agriculture program, which provides biweekly bags of locally grown, organic Asian vegetables at a greatly reduced price. 

As a foundation, we have a unique opportunity to help improve health and wellness for people across the nation. In my days as a practicing clinician, I held the importance of each and every individual’s health as paramount. In my role as a grant maker, I strive to bring this sense of passion and mindfulness to help change lives through continued research and partnerships.

Dr. Garth Graham is president of the Aetna Foundation. In this role, Dr. Graham is responsible for the Foundation’s philanthropic work, including its grant-making strategies to improve the health of people from underserved communities and increase their access to high-quality health care. A national authority on health disparities and health care quality, Dr. Graham is a frequent spokesperson for the Foundation on health care and health equity issues.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home