The growing epidemic of childhood obesity, and increasing awareness about the nature of chronic diseases that persist from childhood into adulthood, has become a major public health concern in the United States. Evidence continues to mount that the two most important influences on childhood obesity are nutrition and physical activity. While schools are often cited as the most capable environment to address childhood obesity and related public health concerns, they face extreme challenges in providing these social interventions alone. At the same time, environmental and social influence beyond the reach of schools are becoming recognized as the major determinants in the development of childhood obesity (Institute of Medicine, 2005). Across this divide and connection between schools and communities, an opportunity exists to transform approaches and community-school relationships to more effectively address this growing national obesity epidemic. Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) offers a much needed strategy for organizing local capacity in understanding and responding to these complex, multi-systemic health issues. The Communities and Schools Together (CAST) study seeks to build a collaborative school-community partnership to discover researched solutions to local obesity health risks for children. Partners in this proposed study include an elementary school district with an enrollment of 3,000 students in a suburban/rural community in Oregon. Community partners include a multidisciplinary group of organizational members focused on food system environments, parent training and health education;university academic programs experienced in assessing nutritional policies and practice, community built environments, and physical activity access and supports;and a research organization capable of assisting in measuring and evaluating community-based interventions to support of communities and schools in their efforts to reduce childhood obesity. To assist this CAST CBPR, we propose the development of a community health monitoring system to serve as community-based repository for research on local health needs. This CHMS will help track rates of child obesity, analyzing environmental and social influences of obesity, and developing strategies for effective and timely community-based obesity prevention and intervention programs. CAST partners will conduct research on local social, built environment, and food environment influences and factors related to child health, develop and evaluate a community developed, data driven parent health intervention program, and document program processes and collaboratively developed research methods and findings for ongoing dissemination and replication of the CAST program.
The project will develop a community-school partnership to research environmental factors influencing obesity risk among elementary school children. This project will create a Community-Based Health Monitoring system to serve as a research repository for obesity prevention collaboration and a research tool for use in other communities. The project will also develop and evaluate a collaborative and research-based parenting curriculum to reduce community risks of obesity among children. School neighborhoods will be assessed for children}s health via established built- and food-system research methods, which will measure the relative strengths and challenges of neighborhoods for support of positive child health outcomes.
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