April 18, 2018

Studies show decade-long community health efforts are promising

11 studies highlight key successes to improve health outcomes, including physical activity and healthy lunches for school kids.

OAKLAND, Calif.  — Over the past decade, Kaiser Permanente has used different aspects of its Healthy Eating Active Living (or HEAL) initiative to improve health policies, programs and ultimately health outcomes across more than 60 communities, positively impacting the health of more than 715,000 people. However, there is still more work to do on obesity prevention, say the Kaiser Permanente experts and community health leaders who authored a series of 11 studies that appeared today in an American Journal of Preventive Medicine supplement.

Infographic highlighting Kaiser Permanente's community health initiatives.
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“These studies provide important insights from a decade of innovative, community-wide efforts to stem the obesity epidemic,” says Loel Solomon, PhD, vice president for Community Health at Kaiser Permanente. “They show what it takes to create meaningful, lasting change. The lessons we’ve learned are as valuable as they are timely, because our work is far from done.”

In the American Journal of Preventive Medicine supplement, Kaiser Permanente experts and community health partners begin with an overview of the studies, “The Kaiser Permanente Community Health Initiative: A Decade of Implementing and Evaluating Community Change,” which gives context to the work as part of a cohesive program addressing health outcomes across the country. The papers themselves cover a variety of topics, including improving healthy eating and activity in home-based child care settings, increasing food security, creating healthier school lunches, and increasing physical activity in school and community settings.

Study highlights and insights

  • Significant impact is possible when working with youth, especially in schools and on physical activity. This is where Kaiser Permanente saw the biggest changes and the most promise.
  • “Dose” matters for community impact. To improve the health of communities, the impact needs to reach a lot of people with well-chosen, strong strategies.
  • Community-based obesity initiatives need to be flexible and address other pressing community concerns like community violence. This flexibility is key to creating impact and sustaining community support.
  • Lasting results require sustainable changes, including policy. Working with municipal leaders to provide tools, resources and information to adopt policies that advance population health goals is crucial to long-term success.

“Kaiser Permanente and community partner leaders have worked together to positively change community nutrition and physical activity environments that foster the development of obesity,” says William Dietz, MD, PhD, Sumner M. Redstone Center chair, George Washington University, and previous director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This body of work identifies strategies that can spread and scale in other communities to address this public health crisis.”

The risks of obesity to health are clear, say the authors in these evaluations. It can cause life-threatening and chronic illnesses that shorten life spans, reduce quality of life, and contribute to health care cost inflation that are crowding out other critical social investments. Rates of obesity and the consequences for health are especially high in low-income communities of color, say the authors. That is why this work is critically important, to address health needs from every angle and scale them nationwide.


Peer-Reviewed Evaluation Papers

  • “Dose as a Tool for Planning and Implementing Community-Based Health Strategies”
  • “Using Population Dose to Evaluate Community-level Health Initiatives”
  • “Increase in Physical Activity Sustained 1 Year After Playground Intervention”
  • “Boulder Food Rescue: An Innovative Approach to Reducing Food Waste and Increasing Food Security”
  • “Supporting Community-Based Healthy Eating and Active Living Efforts in Sustaining Beyond the Funding Cycle”
  • “Changes in School Food Preparation Methods Result in Healthier Cafeteria Lunches in Elementary Schools”
  • “Colorado Healthy Eating and Active Living Cities and Towns Campaign”
  • “A Community-Level Initiative to Prevent Obesity: Results from Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Eating Active Living Zones Initiative in California”
  • “Changes in Consumer Purchases in Stores Participating in an Obesity Prevention Initiative”
  • “Changes in Nutrition Policies and Dietary Intake in Child Care Homes Participating in Healthy Eating and Active Living Initiative”
  • “Improvements in Physical Activity Opportunities: Results from a Community-Based Family Child Care Intervention”

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 12 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health.