health, wellness & safety

PORTFOLIO:

Childhood Health

GEOGRAPHIC IMPACT:

Local, state, national and international

ORGANIZATION:

Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living

SUMMARY:

The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living works brings world-class researchers together to focus on evidence-based methods of preventing and controlling childhood obesity. The center works with community-based organizations to evaluate and increase the effectiveness of their programs, then works with policy makers at state, federal and local levels to craft policies that promote healthy behaviors among children. In 2010, the center conducted a study on an Austin, TX-based initiative called Sprouting Healthy Kids, which takes a multi-component, school-based approach to trying to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among adolescents.

Dr. Alexandra Evans, Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences, Dell Center for Healthy Living, Lead researcher, Sprouting Healthy Kids Evaluation Project

I believe in data: The data show me what’s been successful. And the data from the Sprouting Healthy Kids study showed that the children who have gone through the program eat significantly more fruits and vegetables than children who did not participate. But beyond that basic finding, what was really interesting was what we learned about each of the program’s components. We could look at them individually and determine which really made the difference. And we found that, statistically, only three of the six components were really important. That’s incredibly valuable information; it allows you to say, ‘If we were to implement this program broadly, if we were to drive some policy around it, could we focus on the big three components and still get significant results?’

The ultimate goal of this work – the work of the center overall – is to drive policy changes either at the city level, the state level or the federal level. But it’s also to get the information back to the local organizations that we work with so they can adjust future programming, because it makes no sense to be spending money on strategies that don’t work, even though they feel good.

Dr. Deanna Hoelcher, Director, Dell Center for Healthy Living

Most of the time, people in the research world will conduct an NIH (National Institutes of Health) study and not extend their findings into real-life practice. We try to flip that around. So, for example, we look at innovations that come out of the community, try to strengthen certain components, and then put rigorous design around testing those innovations. Then we extract evidence about what works and what doesn’t. After we do that, the next question is always, “How do we help sustain momentum?” Because what we’re trying to do is design and test scalable, evidenced-based practices. So besides applying evidence-based research methods to community-based initiatives, a major part of what we do is translate our findings to policy makers so they can craft sound policies around childhood obesity and other childhood health issues.