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California City Solutions: Baldwin Park Recognized for Providing Healthy Community Choices and Adopting Initiatives

June 13, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Healthy Baldwin Park was submitted in 2013 for the Health and Wellness award category.

The incidence of childhood obesity has become a nationwide epidemic prompting responses from cities, community based organizations, school districts and even the First Lady Michelle Obama. Baldwin Park has spent more than a decade building programs like People on the Move (POTM) and Healthy Baldwin Park to address barriers to healthy choices for its residents. Through much dedication, the city has emerged as a leader, creating new healthy opportunities for its residents, collaborating with several partners and adopting various initiatives engaging the community and its youth.

Addressing childhood obesity is a long-term challenge and commitment. The demographics of Baldwin Park reflect a young (median age of 30) and predominantly working class Latino community (80.1 percent). With the prevalence of childhood obesity among the Latino population, Baldwin Park is one of the first cities in California to actively address childhood obesity through a multiagency and community collaborative effort.
Residents face barriers to adequate healthcare, affordable food sources and limited resources for physical activities. As a result of these conditions low income residents are experiencing higher rates of diet-related chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In 2010, the prevalence of childhood obesity in California cities was examined, ranking Baldwin Park 30 out of 265 cities, with 46.7 percent of the entire childhood population classified as obese or overweight.
Baldwin Park was also identified as having several census tracts that were considered food deserts. These are neighborhoods with a substantial portion of residents living in low-income areas with little access to grocery stores or healthy, affordable food retail outlets.
With many parents working, children are sometimes left with decisions of purchasing after school snacks on their walk home from school. Most convenience stores in the community place the selection of healthier items lower than eye level, if they are present at all. Stores that do carry healthy items typically have products located in the back, overshadowed by an overwhelming amount of liquor, tobacco and soda advertising.
In the late 1990s, the groundwork was laid with the Baldwin Park Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) and the city to embark on a journey that has transformed an entire community. The collaborative goal was to reduce disparities in diet-related chronic diseases, including obesity and diabetes, among school-aged children by improving the food choices and physical environment in Baldwin Park.
An analysis of the 2001 California Physical Fitness Tests for fifth, seventh, and ninth-graders by assembly district indicated 32.4 percent of children in the 57th Assembly District, which included Baldwin Park at the time, were considered overweight and 41 percent of children were unfit. Not only did the statistics suggest a health issue was surfacing, they illustrated that children in the 57th Assembly District had some of the highest percentages of childhood obesity in the state.
An initiative called People on the Move (POTM) was created in 2004, which expanded the partnership to include Baldwin Park Unified School District (BPUSD), LA County Department of Public Health, health providers, parents, and students. POTM launched Healthy Baldwin Park, a city-wide campaign focused on improving food and physical activity environments for school-age children, and creating momentum for widespread changes in policy and planning practices. POTM also worked closely with BPUSD to develop a model K-6 Physical Education/Physical Activity program and revamped the school meal program, reintroducing salad bars along with an improved wellness policy.
Simultaneously the city council began to approve policies that were directly related to the goals and objectives of the POTM program. The city was the first to adopt an ordinance in California ensuring 100 percent of food and beverages sold in city-sponsored youth facilities complied with state nutrition standards required for schools.
As a result of the POTM initiative, the city experienced several significant changes: increasing accessibility to healthy food and physical activity opportunities; increasing resident participation in policy and planning processes; and reducing BMI scores among fifth, seventh, and ninth-grade students over a four-year period by 8.79 percent. In addition, more than 1,000 resident advocates, including children, teens and adults were trained to act as agents of change in their community.
Highlights Made Through POTM and Healthy Baldwin Park
Community Mobilization
  • Baldwin Park Resident Advisory Council: Members participated in the planning of community activities to change local policies and support parents to not only lead healthier lives, but to have a voice.
  • Change Starts with Me: Members participated in a 6-week training focused on community organizing and advocacy.
  • Complete Streets Community Charette: Over 500 residents participated in a three day Design Fair with the city, CCPHA, and transportation experts to develop and adopt a plan for improving pedestrian access and walkability.
Youth Activism
  • Healthy Teens on the Move: Members participated in teen led efforts to improve youth visibility and youth testimony on how environment impacts teen’s choices to be active and eat healthy.
  • Kids on the Move: Members participated in ‘tween’ led efforts to improve youth visibility and youth testimony on how the environment impacts teen’s choices to be active and eat healthy.
  • Cycler Leadership Program: Members participated in elementary school efforts to improve youth visibility and testimony on how the environment impacts teen’s choices to be active and eat healthy.
Food Access
  • Healthy Selections Program: Members participated in development of Healthy Selection Corner Store Program to develop incentives for stores to carry a larger variety of fruits and vegetables, and improve product placement and healthy food displays.
  • Mayor’s Roundtable: Committee with corner store owners to develop a Healthy Selections Corner Store program.
Grant Funding
  • Four-year Healthy Eating Active Communities (HEAC) Grant: The California Endowment pilot program to create change through policies, programs and partnerships.
  • Cal-Trans Environmental Justice Planning Grant
  • Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities Grant: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • Healthy Eating, Active Living Grant: Kaiser Permanente for installation of outdoor fitness equipment at Hilda Solis Park.
  • RENEW Grant: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for Complete Streets and Corner Store Project.
  • Outdoor Fitness Zone Grant Program: Trust for Public Land for installation of outdoor fitness equipment at Morgan Park.
  • Cal-Trans Environmental Justice Planning Grant: Safe Routes to School
Since POTM was established, Baldwin Park experienced a transformational change that resulted in new policies, community mobilization, improved physical activity opportunities and a closer relationship with local businesses. POTM members and CCPHA are collaborating with community and elected leaders in cities throughout Los Angeles County to replicate this unique model. At least 14 Los Angeles County cities have adopted similar health policies, six have conducted food and beverage assessments and four have recruited and trained residents to serve as advocates to improve access to healthy food and physical activity for their residents. The success of POTM and all of it subsequent policies have forever improved the quality of life for the Baldwin Park community.
Recognition of POTM’s success was highlighted in 2011 when Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano was invited to speak at the White House for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. In 2012, the city received an “A” grade from the American Lung Cancer Association for its tobacco control efforts. Baldwin Park is one of 12 cities in California to receive this coveted distinction.

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