Anita Courtney, chair of the Lexington, Kentucky-based Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition, along with colleagues at the Lexington Fayette County Health Department, signed up to become a We Can! site over two years ago. When the Kentucky Department of Public Health selected We Can! as one of its statewide interventions for its obesity prevention grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anita's experience with We Can! and background in obesity prevention work made her the natural choice to coordinate the program.
A proponent of adequate funding to address childhood overweight and obesity, Anita emphasizes that running one We Can! program, which doesn't require a lot of funding, is a great place to start. When Anita ran a We Can! program for a church group in Kentucky, she asked them to select an issue to address in their church related to healthier eating. The group opted to talk to the chef who prepares their weekly dinners to request healthier options. Now, the group's weekly dinners always include a non-fried option, as well as a salad bar and more fruit for dessert.
One challenge to organizing a We Can! parent program can be finding ways to reach parents. "Go to naturally convening groups," Anita says. Look for interested people at work places, at the library, or in a faith-based organization. You'll have a built-in audience and without having to bring together a brand new group. When asked how to keep attendance up, Anita says, "Get creative." Offer simultaneous programming for kids, so that parents won't have to find child care. Set up a video game system with physically active games, such as tennis and bowling, for kids to enjoy while their parents attended We Can!
After you've run the We Can! series, stay in touch with the participants. "I send regular emails," Anita explains, "but I make sure to keep them short, with a just a few tips. Often, people will respond and tell you what's going on or what they've tried." A few weeks after you complete your own program, you can try one of Anita's favorite strategies: host a reunion. Invite everyone to bring successes and challenges. "That way, the leader doesn't have to plan," Anita points out. "And the meeting really focuses on the topics that participants care about."
Such strategies help keep down the time it takes to lead a We Can! program. "Go after things that have the most effect for the least effort," says Anita. "That's why We Can! is so great-the program has already been developed, so you can focus on community collaboration and not have to reinvent the wheel with time-consuming program development. It's a good use of my time."
Ultimately, Anita says, there's "no end of what we could do" to address the issue of childhood overweight because "sedentary behavior and toxic food environments are so pervasive, there is always opportunity for change." That's where We Can! comes in, providing the tools for individual people to effect change in their own communities.
We Can! and the We Can! logo are trademarks of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
We Can! Families Finding the Balance: A Parent Handbook provides background information on the obesity epidemic and practical tools to help you and your family adopt a healthier lifestyle.
We Can! offers a variety of resources and materials, including a community toolkit, parent handbook, posters, print ads, and wristbands.