Movement building is critical to efforts designed to create and impact social change, including in the work being done to positively affect healthy weight in children. The fact is no one individual or organization has the ability to create change to the degree necessary to truly drive down current rates of childhood obesity. Multiple and diverse partners are needed, all with a shared goal of improving the health of the nation’s children and youth.
Voices for Healthy Kids is well aware of that challenge. That’s why movement building is a fundamental component of the work we do and the projects we help fund. Take for example the work being done in Oregon to create and fund a Safe Routes to School Program there.
Policymakers in Portland, OR and elsewhere recognize the benefits of more students walking and biking to school. Physical activity not only creates lifelong healthy habits, it also helps improve student academic performance. But ensuring that the infrastructure is there to make walking and biking to school safer – such as better street crossings, improved lighting and designated bicycle routes – can be expensive, which is why support for funding state-based Safe Routes to School efforts can be difficult to obtain. These policymakers often want to do the right thing when it comes to making it safer and easier for students to walk and bike to school, but with competing financing priorities and tight budgets, that becomes a challenge for many of them.
But advocates in Portland were able to overcome that opposition and secure an unprecedented $3.5 million for Safe Routes to School by building and maintaining a broad-based coalition dedicated to supporting the program. Included in the coalition were not only well-known, national organizations such as the American Heart Association and Safe Routes to School National Partnership, there were also regional, highly effective organizations such as the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and Upstream Public Health. These regional organizations were provided capacity-building grants to help them build and strengthen their outreach. The resulting network became known as the “For Every Kid” campaign.
Not only did the organizational work result in a win for Safe Routes to School in Oregon, and ultimately the kids who will benefit from safer streets and sidewalks for walking and biking to school, the capacity building grants will have a long-term impact on other efforts designed to improve the health and wellbeing of communities and community members.
Says LeeAnne Fergason, Safe Routes to School director for BTA, who organizes the coalition:
“Having partners who had capacity to participate in the “For Every Kid” campaign was crucial. They provided expertise in policy creation and in engaging neighborhoods that need Safe Routes to School the most. The long-term effects of these relationships are still being felt as our Coalition aims for statewide changes and increased funding for Safe Routes to School. The “For Every Kid” movement would cease to exist if it weren’t for these dedicated partners.”
Voices for Healthy Kids is doing similar engagement at the national level. We have worked and are working to help connect more than 100 national organizations to convene, align, and build collective power to improve the health of the nation’s children and youth by reducing the incidence of unhealthy weight among those populations. Aaron Doeppers, who leads the national movement building for Voices for Healthy Kids, says that building national collaborations is central to creating the power necessary to impact a problem as serious and widespread as unhealthy weight among the nation’s youth.
Doeppers says the collaborations not only allow the organizations to share best practices and innovative ideas, they also help them better understand the health harms and inequities associated with unhealthy weight. That’s important for implementing national and regional approaches to the problem. But the increased knowledge and skills also filters down to work being done at the state and local level to positively impact the places children and youth live, learn and play, such as the effort in Portland to make it easier and safer for kids to walk and bike to school.
Ultimately, the movement-building work we are engaged in can be compared to a piece of fabric. The higher the thread count, the stronger and more durable the fabric. Creating broad-based networks and coalitions centered around improving the weight of all children have resulted in a fabric of national, regional, and local advocates whose collective strength is resulting in positive change for the nation’s youth.