Breaking down barriers to children’s health

Jul 28th 2016

By Sarah Margolis, Associate Program Director, Access to Nutrition 

Why do communities of color across the United States have unequal and inconsistent access to healthy environments? And how do we arrive at practical, sustainable solutions that will measurably improve the well-being of these communities?

This question is at the heart of the Communities Creating Healthy Environments (CCHE) work organized by the Praxis Project, and was the focus of discussions at their July meeting in Chicago. My goal in attending was to explore how ICCR’s corporate engagement work might help to amplify the community voices around the CCHE table.

The CCHE meeting brought together representatives from organizations across the country that are developing innovative strategies to help children in communities of color to grow up at a healthy weight and in healthy environments. Each representative brought knowledge of their community and region to the table so that we could have an open discussion about the challenges communities of color face, and to collectively brainstorm paths to address the complex problems of childhood obesity and improving community health.

Following the approach of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health, our discussion highlighted the need for collaboration and a multi-stakeholder approach.

Some of the key elements related to ICCR’s nutrition work we discussed included:

  • Targeted marketing of unhealthy foods to communities of color, a key focus for ICCR’s nutrition engagements with both media companies and food and beverage companies. Our partners, MomsRising and the Berkeley Media Studies Group, also attended the meeting, and we look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that digital marketing to children is done fairly and responsibly.
  • Our shared concern over excessive sugar in children’s diets. The work of Dr. Vicki Alexander in passing Berkeley’s soda tax to fund nutrition and health programs was a highlight.
  • The need to address nutrition from all angles, including policy. The American Heart Association’s Voices for Healthy Kids shared national and state policy work to improve children’s health.

Focusing in on Native American communities, Judith LeBlanc of Native Organizers Alliance highlighted the imperative to collaborate around efforts to improve the culture of health for Native American communities. We were challenged by OJ Semans Sr. of Four Directions to understand the need to identify the barriers we face in order to increase food justice. Because of the connections we observed, we understand the increasing need for a multi-stakeholder solution.

As the only group representing the investor perspective at the CCHE meeting, ICCR is uniquely positioned to help amplify the voices of these community organizations by integrating them into our corporate dialogues. These convenings are our “ear to the ground”, helping us learn what communities need so we can push companies to develop programs and practices that will support the creation of healthy environments for children in all regions of the country.

We need the participation of all stakeholders in order to build the culture of health that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation envisions. By strengthening our partnerships and more intentionally integrating community voices into our shareholder advocacy work, ICCR will do its part to call for corporate leadership in the movement to build healthier, more equitable communities.