Delta Region Community Health Systems Development: EatMoveGrow
The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Amy Karam, project director for EatMoveGrow, and Donna Newton, executive director for the Health Enrichment Network in Allen Parish, about how using a tailored approach and accountability have been key to their success in creating a culture of health in 40 schools in 17 rural Louisiana Delta parishes.
To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment or win in your program?
Amy: We actually moved the needle on body mass index (BMI), which was a long-term goal for us. We have been working for about nine years on obesity prevention projects in our rural parishes and just prior to the COVID shutdown, we documented that 43% of EatMoveGrow participants had a BMI change in a healthy direction. We have just been able to restart our BMI measures and what we have documented is that there has been a little back slide, similar to what the nation has documented. We will have to start using what we know works and get back to where we were. We also feel like we have created sustainable interest in improved health and obesity prevention in these schools where previously it did not exist.
What is a tip that you would share with an organization launching a similar program?
Donna: The system that we developed over the years, that has been successful, begins with the relationship with the schools and having a face-to-face person. Then, that relationship broadens with education and school health contacts and the School Health Index. It comes back around with that educator and what they learned through their work at that school.
Amy: I think we have been able to accomplish what we have because we have boots on the ground. We have a person who works one-on-one with the schools to provide them the resources that they need to develop the program. Our program is not a cookie cutter program. We look at each school and each area because they each have distinct needs. Our main goal is to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and develop better health, but the environments at each school are different.
Our model is reproducible because we use the School Health Index, which is a pretty standard evaluation of the school health environments. It allows them to tailor what their goals are within their resources and their community. It allows us to come out with a concrete set of goals that schools can wrap their hands around and take some concrete steps. But we also combine that with a school health contract. This incentivizes them to complete different components of their own goals. Our health educators, who were there on a monthly basis teaching in their classrooms, can offer assistance and resources.
Donna: One other tip for a new grantee is to be flexible and be able to listen. When things are just not working, be able to pivot and understand that there are a lot of different roads that take you to your destination. Each school or community might have to take a different path to reach that destination. So, do not be so rigid that they have to do it this way or you may lose that group of individuals.
How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s Delta States grant program impacting your broader health improvement efforts?
Amy: We have been building infrastructure in places where it did not exist. Before EatMoveGrow, the school health environment did not factor into day-to-day decision making in the school. And now schools are reconsidering things about snacks, vending policies, and canteen policies; exactly what kind of movement kids are really getting during recess; and whether limiting physical activity is part of their discipline policy. Schools are beginning to think about the impact on children’s health from all different kinds of decisions.
Donna: Our coordinators live and work in these areas. So, sustainability continues even when this grant is over, as they are still going to be working and living in these communities.
What will your organization be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic?
Amy: The pandemic shifted our focus because we were previously working one on one with these teachers, administrations, and school nurses. The pandemic really upped our virtual game. We made an effort to transition all our resources to online platforms, updating our website, putting together digital newsletters, and doing a lot of video work, even creating a YouTube channel. These things will continue to exist and will continue to augment our one-on-one visits.
Donna: Now we have a lot of different platforms that we work through. With these resources we are able to hit a broader group of individuals. With our staffing, we are only able to work in approximately 40 schools, but there are a lot of other schools that can benefit from our resources. I am also proud of the social and emotional learning pieces that we have been able to add, which is important given what we have faced in the last two years with students, teachers, families.