Community-led effort sparks public health wave

Writing in The New York Times, Jessica Reaves writes about how a 2000-06 Chicago community survey embodies the block-by-block, community-reliant approach to public health that it helped inspire.

In the heavily Puerto Rican Humboldt Park neighborhood, researchers worked with community leaders to write study questions, then relied on community members to conduct the actual survey. From these roots, the level of community participation snowballed, and locals demonstrated an interest and investment in public health that researchers hasn’t seen before. Today, initiatives born out of that study still provide residents with access to fresh produce, free diabetes screenings, fitness classes and more.

Now, researchers are further localizing and intensifying their effort with a block-by-block approach. The Humboldt Park model has become one that others are working to replicate across the country.

The specifics of the Sinai approach (In Humboldt Park) — change-oriented and invested in the fate of a neighborhood — are distinctive, but they also reflect a sea change in the overall strategy of public health professionals, said Janine Lewis, executive director of the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Chicago.

“I think the field is becoming more responsive to the idea of community-based participatory research,” Ms. Lewis said. “Those of us in the field realize that community members are experts on the needs and gifts in their communities, and should be consulted” at every phase of research.

This approach, she added, not only helps investigators devise more meaningful questions, but also means residents feel a part of the process and motivated by the results.

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