They say " Two heads are better than one" and North Carolina seems to have proved that adage true. According to a new study, a largely African-American area of Charlotte, North Carolina owes its success in a program, which helped reduce risky health behaviours, to community involvement. The report is carried in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
The four-year project — intended to reduce diabetes and heart disease risk factors — led to significant declines in physical inactivity and smoking as well as to an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.
Advertisement"We reached out to find people who were already natural leaders through various community organizations," said lead study author Marcus Plescia, M.D. He is Chief of the Chronic Disease and Injury Section, of the North Carolina Division of Public Health.
Members of the Charlotte community were involved in every step of the project, from designing and implementing interventions to evaluating and refining them. Local resources went to good use; for instance:
- A neighbourhood association organized a farmer's market and members of a grassroots community group encouraged a local YMCA to expand its physical activity programs.
- Lay health advisors and coalition members took part in state and local advocacy efforts to raise the state tax on tobacco products and ban smoking in restaurants and bars.
- A local public relations firm helped to publicize the health risks and associated behaviours.
For the Charlotte participants, physical inactivity among women dropped from 33 percent to 26.1 percent. The number of people consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables daily grew from 26.0 percent to 27.4 and the number of women who smoked dropped from 26.8 percent to 20.9. Among men, vegetable and fruit consumption rose from 17.9 percent to 21.9 percent.
The Charlotte Reach Project offers lessons that can apply to other parts of the country, said registered dietitian Suzanne Pelican, a food and nutrition expert at the University of Wyoming-based WIN Wyoming project, which attempts to overcome health disparities faced by low-income rural communities.
"A person's choices are greatly influenced by the options they have where they live work and play, by their families and the communities they live in," Pelican said. "Charlotte is a community like no other, but if policy makers, educators, researchers and community leaders look at such projects, we can find ways to enhance similar projects in other environments."