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Collaborations across faith communities have a rich history of working together for social change. They have been at the forefront of local and state efforts on social issues such as homelessness, tobacco use, hunger and poverty. Today, there is emerging energy among faith-based coalitions to advocate for improved food, nutrition and environmental policies.

WHRO - in partnership with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - led an organizing campaign in Western Tidewater to build capacity among faith communities to address childhood obesity and to gain ground-level insight and understanding of the issues involved.  Western Tidewater comprises six rural localities - two cities (Franklin and Suffolk) and four counties (Isle of Wight, South Hampton, Surry and Sussex) - located in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.

The culminating report, Healthy Kids in Hampton Roads: Galvanizing Communities to End Childhood Obesity, documents nearly two years of organizing in Western Tidewater and is the product of listening to and learning from local communities. The report identifies a range of opportunities for behavioral and policy change in three primary areas: public awareness, access to healthy food, and physical activity. The collaboration of numerous stakeholders can address and lesson the problem of childhood obesity through public awareness, advocacy, policy changes, and policy implementation. Change must begin within local communities, and broadening public awareness of the epidemic is essential to furthering the cause. Increasing access to healthy foods can be accomplished in multiple ways, but again, must begin at the local level. Physical activity must be increased within schools, congregations, and communities as a whole. Improving nutritional standards in public schools is vital to ensuring that our children are not only fed healthy foods, but are also beding educated at an early age on the importance of nutrition and physical activity.

Empowerment of community members is imperative to addressing childhood obesity because solutions must be implemented on an ongoing basis, leading to long-term systemic and structural change.

 

The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy is Virginia's oldest faith-based advocacy group. The Center is a nonpartisan coalition of faith communities working to create progressive public policy by engaging people of faith, educating the public about social issues, the legislative process, and the call to advocacy.