HRSA grant addresses childhood obesity

Felesia Bowen

By Pareasa Rahimi

University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Professor and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Felesia Bowen, PhD, DNP, APRN, PPCNP-BC, FAAN, has received a five-year, $250,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to lead an initiative to reduce childhood obesity and its associated poor health outcomes in the Birmingham area.

According to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health, children in the state face high levels and worsening trends for childhood obesity with Black children disproportionately affected. While obesity is a complex chronic disease, Bowen points to social determinants such as poverty, lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, lack of physical activity due to inadequate access to safe play spaces, as well as increased crime in communities, as contributing factors.

“In Alabama, six of the 10 leading causes of death are directly related to nutrition and physical activity and are preventable or delayable with changes in behavior,” Bowen said. “This funding is important because it allows us to provide early interventions at the community level to address obesity and chronic diseases associated with obesity. Community-level interventions that are directed by community members themselves are proven ways to establish and increase healthy behaviors.”

Bowen will be working with the Titusville community, an inner-city Birmingham neighborhood with a predominately minority population, to improve access to healthy nutrition and physical activity resources for children. Goals include establishing a community-based nutrition and physical activity program and forming a team of community and state partners to develop a program sustainability plan that includes a funding strategy to promote preventive child health services for families living there.

“Our intervention focuses on education, removing barriers to healthy living and moving toward health equity for all Alabamians,” Bowen said.

As part of the project, the UAB School of Nursing is partnering with community organizations to develop and implement nutrition and physical activity interventions for families living in Titusville. Sixth Avenue Baptist Church has been working to address social factors that keep residents from reaching their full health, education and earning potential, and improve the health and well-being of children. The church recently adopted four Birmingham City schools located in under-resourced communities, including the Booker T. Washington K-8 School in North Titusville, and is now partnering with the UAB School of Nursing to provide a community room that will be used for meetings and education events.

As an existing partner in increasing access to nutritious food in Titusville through the Mobile Market, Live HealthSmart Alabama has committed to visiting the local elementary school monthly when children are picked up from school and holding quarterly health screenings via their Mobile Wellness van. Viva Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama will sponsor annual health fairs and screenings.

The School also is collaborating with interprofessional colleagues within other UAB health-focused schools, including the School of Dentistry and the Department of Nutrition Sciences in the School of Health Professions, to place students to assist with nutrition education, training community leaders to deliver culturally relevant nutrition programs, and cooking demonstrations. Dental screenings will be administered to older adults by the School of Dentistry, and dental health assessments and dentist referrals for young children will be provided through interprofessional teams of dental and pediatric nurse practitioner students and their faculty to decrease access barriers to dental care.

Additionally, UAB School of Nursing Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Graduate Clinical Education Tedra Smith, DNP, CRNP, CPNP-PC, CNE, CHSE (MSN 2004, DNP 2011), will collaborate with the project’s leadership team to provide nutrition and physical activity education materials developed for elementary schools teachers through a previously awarded HRSA grant that focuses on child health. The materials will be used to help educate teachers and coaches at Booker T. Washington K-8 School in Titusville on what they can do to help support healthy behaviors in their students.

“By pooling our resources, we’re addressing systemic barriers that have prevented health equity in many of Birmingham’s under-resourced communities. This method is proven to work when funds are limited and the root of the health disparity is caused by obstacles that require policy change to remove,” Bowen said. “Building interventions collectively also ensures sustainability after the project funding ends.”

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