Closing-the-policymaking-gap-Tackling-barriers-to-improving-public-health-in-Louisiana

Closing the policymaking gap: Tackling barriers to improving public health in Louisiana

When attempting to address Louisiana's consistently low rankings in national health reports, public health professionals can have a positive influence on the policy-making process through research and education, according to recently published work from the Tulane public health researchers.

From 2013 to 2014, a team of faculty and staff at the Tulane Nutrition Program and Tulane Prevention Research Center explored strategies for improving public health in Louisiana by conducting policy research and educating lawmakers. The team used metrics and data from America's Health Rankings, an annual report by the United Health Foundation, to determine the most important focus areas to shift Louisiana's rankings. Obesity, physical activity, nutrition, smoking, and infant health were among the focus areas. As of the 2017 report, Louisiana was 49th for overall health. In 2014, several of the strategies were incorporated into state legislation.

The team's work was e-published in the journal Health Promotion Practice in April. The study summarizes the promising physical activity and nutrition strategies that were considered by the Tulane team, how the team's work product was integrated into state legislation, the outcomes of the legislation, and a set of recommendations for how Louisiana can expand on this work.

The team found that taking a strategic approach to policy formation can lay the foundation for ongoing work on a public health topic. This approach is rooted in incremental change and includes activities such as documenting needs and baseline metrics, building a partnership of invested organizations, reaching consensus on policy priorities and moving forward strategically on a state level.

"Tulane's team identified public health challenges in Louisiana, investigated possible solutions and educated policymakers and the public about them, an approach that could be used in others states as well," said Diego Rose, a faculty co-investigator at the Tulane PRC and head of the Nutrition Section at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. "We have taken this approach to promote the health of all Louisianans."

Policymakers can contribute to positive health outcomes by developing policies that support healthy behaviors and environments. Former State Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, translated the Tulane PRC’s research into policy solutions that he authored and introduced for the state’s legislative session of 2014. Ultimately, eight of the nine legislative items were successful in passing the state Senate and House of Representatives and obtaining the Governor's signature. The policies received little to no opposition from policymakers during committee hearings and voting sessions.

"This project provided us with a deeper understanding of the current policies and practices related to diet and physical activity in our state," said Mary Kathryn Poole, lead author on the paper and a current research assistant at the Harvard Prevention Research Center. "We hope this study and its recommendations will be useful to policymakers and practitioners who want to enhance existing policies and propose new solutions that will improve the public's health."

To read the paper abstract in Health Promotion Practice, click here.

By Emily Szklarski, Tulane PRC Communications Research Assistant
April 2018

Topics:   health communication , policy

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