LOVELL’S FOOD FOR THOUGHT – CAN DO HOUSTON

Dr. Lovell Jones | 10/6/2015, 2:24 p.m.
Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it ...
The small group of thoughtful and committed individuals that made CAN DO Houston, Dr. Beverly Gor, Nancy Correa, Niiobli Armah IV, and Dr. Jasmine Opusunju

After Men’s Fitness magazine named Houston the “Fattest City in America” in 2005, Mayor Bill White initiated the Mayor’s Wellness Council (MWC) to encourage and motivate Houstonians to make wise choices regarding healthy eating and regular physical activity through education and participation in fun activities. To sustain this vision, in 2006 the MWC created the Houston Wellness Association (HWA), a nonprofit association to engage businesses and the wellness industry in efforts to increase the wellness of all Houston citizens. In 2007 two taskforces were created, one formed by the Houston Wellness Association (HWA) and the other formed by the Mayor’s Wellness Council. I had the pleasure of chairing the Mayor’s Taskforce on Childhood Obesity. Christine Mei was my counterpart on the one formed by the HWA. When I asked about funding for the childhood taskforce, the response I got was something like, Lovell you are a creative individual. Fortunately, for me, I was director of the congressionally mandated Center for Research on Minority Health (CRMH) at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. I also realized that there were funds out there. They just needed to be redirected and brought together. I also knew that I needed to involve the other taskforce.

Our first step was to create a team to bring all of the various entities together. The CRMH already had a Community Relations Core staffed Dr. Beverly Gor. With Beverly assigned to this project, we then were able to involve Dr. Nancy Murray, a faculty member at the University of Texas School of Public Health. Dr. Murray had funding from the NIH Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences grant (https://www.uth.edu/ccts/can-do-houston.htm) to address childhood obesity. From Dr. Murray, we were able to get the assistance of Nancy Correa. With that, the team was formed. Our goal then was to develop a comprehensive strategy to halt the increase in overweight and obesity among children in Houston/Harris County.

To address this goal, we leaned heavy on the biopsychosocial or holistic approach developed by CRMH. An approach based on all of the CRMH efforts around addressing health disparities Today, some would refer to this as a trans-disciplinary approach. However, to us, it involves more that a multitude of disciplines, it truly involves the community as equal partner. William (Bill) Baum termed it as “Building inside out, so that communities become the ultimate project owners.”

For years we have known that a comprehensive approach, involving schools, parks, health departments, community programs, families, and healthcare practitioners would be the only way to address childhood obesity. However, the question that continued to arise was why were these efforts, for the most part, continuing to fail to demonstrate long-term community-wide reductions in childhood obesity rates? One of the reasons we felt was that most, if not all, of these programs were based on outside funding and very little community ownership. What we termed as “parachute science”. Funding that eventually went away without anything to replace it and therefore the efforts went away.

When we launched our efforts we had no real designated grant funding or funding of any kind other than to support Beverly and Nancy, and that was borrowed funding. In the end, it became our greatest asset; for we were forced to seek initial funding from within and truly engage the community. And when we applied for funding, the community knew that it was a gamble. But building such strong partnerships and support from within, especially with direct and upfront community involvement may this truly work, even though it was time consuming. In doing so, it significantly increased the chance for community trust, community ownership, and the relevance of the intervention to ensure it was within the context of the community needs. That is what Children And Neighbors Defeat Obesity; la Comunidad Ayudando a los Niños a Derrotar la Obesidad - CAN DO Houston is all about. With such came a real mission to prevent and diminish childhood obesity in the Houston metropolitan area through physical activity, nutrition, and healthy minds by enabling the broadest collaboration of individuals, institutions, organizations, and local government.