30-years-of-Building-Healthier-Communities-Together

30 years of Building Healthier Communities Together

The Prevention Research Centers (PRCs) Program, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is celebrating its 30th Anniversary in 2016. Throughout the year, the Tulane PRC will share stories about its community-based work and partnerships. Click here for more about the 30th Anniversary.

ReFresh: Research and cross-sector partnerships support innovative community health hub

Many neighborhoods in New Orleans have historically lacked a full-service grocery store, preventing residents from easily buying healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, according to research from the Tulane Prevention Research Center (Tulane PRC). A 2012 study from the Tulane PRC found that higher quality food environments decrease the risk of obesity and overweight for people living in southeast Louisiana. Another PRC study found that each additional linear meter of store shelf space devoted to vegetables linked to an additional daily intake of .35 servings of vegetables. Knowing this, the Tulane PRC has worked in one neighborhood to support the launch of a new grocery store before and after it opened in February 2014 and an associated health promotion collaborative.

The store – a modified Whole Foods – is housed within the ReFresh site, a multi-tenant building focused on providing healthy food choices, as well as programs and services related to community health. In addition to the grocery store, the building houses a teaching kitchen for medical students and community members, a cafe that trains and employs young adults and provides healthy, locally sourced meals to area schools, a community farm where gardening classes are provided to community members, and offices of nonprofits that promote healthy living and provide community assistance.

Before the ReFresh site opened, the Tulane PRC formed Makin' Groceries, a partnership of community organizations, residents and health-focused groups and clinics in the neighborhood and a comparison neighborhood that did not have such programs and services. Makin' Groceries aimed to identify food shopping and diet habits of residents in the neighborhood surrounding ReFresh. Tulane PRC staff and research assistants went door-to-door in the two neighborhoods to ask about these habits and other health-related issues.

"I became involved in the Makin' Groceries project because my neighborhood was a food desert. It was an eye opener to me. I didn't know it was as bad as it was,” said Leonetta Terrell, a resident of the Treme neighborhood and a Makin' Groceries Steering Committee member. “It showed people in the community that people care about them.”

The Makin' Groceries project collected a total of 900 household surveys in the two neighborhoods. Among the results, the project found the average distance to the closest supermarket was 1 mile, but the average distance people traveled to buy groceries was farther – 2.75 miles. The survey results have been presented at national gatherings including APHA and a paper is being prepared for publication in a scientific journal. Other data about frequency of shopping trips, preferences for certain foods and store types, and eating habits, benefited the ReFresh site because it provided insights into their target audience – residents of the ReFresh site's surrounding neighborhood.

As a member of the site's ReFresh NOLA Coalition, the Tulane PRC has also given guidance and technical assistance by providing training sessions for evaluating the site's impact, recruiting public health graduate interns to plan and evaluate ReFresh programming, and collaborating on grant applications. The Tulane PRC is also working with ReFresh to examine collective impact of the coalition and develop and evaluate a community health outreach program, which includes training and deploying community health workers.

For more about the ReFresh project, its partners, and its coalition, visit the ReFresh website and Facebook page.

(Video credit: Tulane PRC. Above photo credit: Paula Burch-Celentano/New Wave. Click the photo at the top of the story for a slideshow of pictures from the ReFresh site, including a photo of the Makin’ Groceries Project Steering Committee members.)

Topics:   community advisory board , food environment , community health

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