Washington, DC


Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:

The Summit Health Institute for Research and Education (SHIRE) contracted with DC Hunger Solutions to advocate for increased funding for after-school meals and with Groundwork Anacostia River DC to advocate for funding of a Park Rangers pilot program. SHIRE supported partners to attend national Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities grantee meetings and provided scholarships for Ward 7 and 8 residents to participate in a local conference as part of its commitment to developing leaders.

For more information, read the full story.

November 2013

The Anacostia River cuts through the nation’s capital–and divides the city’s poorest neighborhoods from the rest of Washington. When D.C. was chosen as a Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) grantee, neighborhoods “east of the river” had rates of childhood overweight and obesity among the highest in the nation. The equally high rate of poverty, crime and drug usage adversely impacted the condition of neighborhoods and deterred residents’ use of the parks and other green space in their midst. Additionally, citizens residing east of the river suffered from the lack of healthy food options.

The HKHC partnership, led by the Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, Inc. (SHIRE), worked together to change some of those statistics. Their ambitions were high. They aimed for systems-level changes that would increase access to affordable, healthy food and safe and affordable physical activity opportunities.

In four short years, the HKHC partnership in D.C. accomplished impressive results with various partners leading specific initiatives.

Key accomplishments include:

  • An early policy victory occurred in 2009. Washington, D.C. became a “supper state” in that year, with leadership from D.C. Hunger Solutions, one of only 14 states eligible to participate in the program. D.C. Public Schools have since been serving after-school meals to more than 9,200 children weekly.
  • Policies and regulations were developed to allow fruit and vegetable vending in public spaces and healthy vending policies were implemented at park and recreation centers. Partners from the Department of Health and the Department of Parks and Recreation spearheaded these efforts.
  • Funding was allocated for a Division of Small Parks and Policy within the Department of Parks and Recreation which supports a Park Rangers pilot program, a hopeful precursor to development of a parks ambassador program, employing neighborhood residents to supervise, maintain and promote the use of parks.
  • In pursuit of policies that would enable Medicaid reimbursement for community-based wellness programs for overweight/obese children and adults, the HKHC partnership first advocated successfully for the expansion of codes so health professionals could bill for a wider range of services to overweight/obese children and adults. The partnership also met with government officials responsible for Medicaid programs at regional and local levels, and pursued strategies with managed care organizations to provide these community-based services to Medicaid recipients. A pilot program is has been proposed and is currently under consideration.

The picture east of the river and all across D.C. is looking brighter these days. Youth have become key players and powerful advocates for healthy community improvements. Decision makers have become champions in lifting up the issues of the partnership. As a result, more children and adults have access to affordable, healthy food and are aware of the importance of physical activity.

Ruth Perot, HKHC project director and executive director of SHIRE, notes that the HKHC partnership helped move health and childhood obesity to the front burner of the policy agenda in D.C. “Together, our partners and engaged residents helped foster a more favorable policy environment in support of healthy eating and active living choices and opportunities,” she said. “And the HKHC partnership has demonstrated its commitment to continue and expand our work.”

The work does indeed continue. Emerging from the partnership is the Outdoors for Health Coalition, a collaboration involving the National Park Service and 10 local government agencies, health care systems and community organizations (including five HKHC partners), which have joined forces to promote the use, by D.C. residents, of outdoor green spaces as a means to prevent obesity and foster wellness.

Washington, DC