From 2008-2010, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene partnered with the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College to create the Health Equity Project, an intervention aimed at increasing the capacity of urban youth to identify and take action to reduce food-related health disparities. By coincidence, the coordinator for Community Food Funders participated in this project while leading a teen group in the South Bronx.
The Health Equity Project partnered with youth-serving agencies to engage teen ages 14-18 in three phases: workshops to gain understanding about food and nutrition issues, research in the form of community food assessments, and action projects designed by the youth to improve their community’s health. This report, Engaging Youth in Food Activism in New York City: Lessons Learned From A Youth Organization, Health Department, and University Partnership, documents the implementation and findings of the Health Equity Project.
From the abstract:
Research indicates that insufficient emphasis on community collaboration and partnership can thwart innovative community-driven work on the social determinants of health by local health departments. Appreciating the importance of enhancing community participation, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) helped lead the development of the Health Equity Project (HEP), an intervention aimed at increasing the capacity of urban youth to identify and take action to reduce food-related health disparities. DOHMH partnered with the City University of New York School of Public Health and several local youth organizations to design and implement the intervention. HEP was conducted with 373 young people in 17 cohorts at 14 unique sites: six in Brooklyn, six in the Bronx, and two in Harlem. Partnered youth organizations hosted three stages of work: interactive workshops on neighborhood health disparities, food environments, and health outcomes; food-focused research projects conducted by youth; and small-scale action projects designed to change local food environments. Through these activities, HEP appears to have been successful in introducing youth to the social, economic, and political factors that shape food environments and to the influence of food on health outcomes. The intervention was also somewhat successful in providing youth with community-based participatory research skills and engaging them in documenting and then acting to change their neighborhood food environments. In the short term, we are unable to assess how successful HEP has been in building young leaders who will continue to engage in this kind of activism, but we suspect that more extended interactions would be needed to achieve this more ambitious goal. Experiences at these sites suggest that youth organizations with a demonstrated capacity to engage youth in community service or activism and a commitment to improving food or other health-promoting community resources make the most suitable and successful partners for this kind of effort.
The full report can be accessed for free here.