By Kelly Bruno, Chief Executive Officer, National Health Foundation

In Historic South Central Los Angeles, a group of highly motivated teens spent several months surveying and interviewing members of their community in an effort to craft solutions that reduce the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and other cardiovascular disease in their neighborhood. It’s a tall order for the teen “Community Health Liaisons,” but their enthusiasm and creativity have proven to be just the antidote for a community looking to improve its health.

The Community Health Liaisons, National Health Foundation (NHF), Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and California Hospital Medical Center have partnered to develop a Community-Driven Action Plan for the Historic South Central community based on the findings of their collective research. The purpose of the plan will be to implement “upstream” (i.e. preventative rather than curative) solutions to the health issues faced by the community.

Los Angeles Community Liaisons

The Community Health Liaisons in South Central Los Angeles are working towards health equity.

By lowering or even eliminating some of the social and environmental barriers to health, these young adults hope that the community will defy the current statistics that point to lower life expectancy and a higher than average rate of preventable illnesses.

A robust environmental scan for the neighborhood (inclusive of South Central, Central Alameda and Zapata King) formed the basis of this proposed four-point action plan:

1) Finding: Local markets do not carry healthy food options.

Proposed Solution: By offering merchants the opportunity to be part of a cooperative purchasing program where the owners would able to buy fresh produce at a lower cost, the community would have access to fresh fruits and vegetables at competitive prices.

2) Finding: Local clinics are positioned to be more involved in the prevention of disease.

Proposed Solution: The plan calls for doctors to provide patients at risk of developing diabetes or obesity with a healthy meal recipe and a voucher to a participating small market where patients can purchase the ingredients at a reduced price. The plan also calls for doctors to “prescribe” physical activity at one of the local park fitness programs.

3) Finding: Parks are not always inviting or safe and recreational facilities offer limited programming.

Proposed Solution: The plan calls for reaching out to local organizations to expand their fitness programming to include classes in the parks. Low cost options for expanding these services include partnerships with kinesiology students or other relevant volunteers.

4) Finding: Marketing is important in reaching out to the community.

Proposed Solution: The plan calls for the development of a place-based and community-focused marketing plan and peer-to-peer education to push this program forward, to increase store involvement and clinic participation, and to raise awareness for addressing social determinants of health and health equity in the Historic South Central community.

Over the last few weeks, these young Community Health Liaisons have been speaking to their community at local events, and they have received strong support from families and community agencies as well.

Los Angeles Community Liaisons speak to a group

The Community Health Liaisons discuss strategies to promote greater health and wellness in their neighborhoods.

“The parents we spoke to all agreed that it was far easier and cheaper to buy fast food than it was to buy healthy food and cook it. Many of them are shuttling between multiple jobs so convenience and cost are key. But simultaneously, they are acutely aware that they are setting a bad example for their children,” shared BUILD youth engagement program coordinator John Rivera.

“These same parents are beginning to experience health issues like pre-diabetes and their doctors are urging them to fix their diet. They realize they need to make a change.”

Parents also shared that once their children go to school, their control over what their children eat fades, and they are then co-parenting with the community.

“Once the children are in school, parents realize that they need to become involved with creating change at the community level and that these changes will benefit their children and those of their friends and neighbors,” shared Alba Peña, BUILD youth engagement program manager. “They are poised to press for healthier options in school and in their community!”

Perhaps the most important outcome of the program thus far has been the enthusiasm of the Community Health Liaisons and the respect they have garnered from their families and the entire community. These students rose to the occasion and have demonstrated incredible poise and creativity during their planning and presentation process.

Their message is resonating with the community in a way that no outside agency or organizational message could because they are creating this change from within. Their families, friends, community officials and elected leaders are actively listening and are joining them to move these ideas forward. These young people are truly bridging gaps in health.

For More Information
About the Author

Kelly Bruno is President and CEO of National Health Foundation in Los Angeles, California. There she leads a team that is addressing the social determinants of health in Southern California communities and bridging gaps in some of the nation’s deepest health disparities.