CCHE evaluates public health investments, forging a path toward success
In March 2010, Public Health–Seattle & King County was awarded $25.5 million to spend on obesity and tobacco prevention. One of many unprecedented federal investments in public health initiatives nationwide, the two-year stimulus grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posed a novel challenge:
How do you turn a massive short-term investment into sustainable positive outcomes—especially when the nation's financial forecast remains bleak?
S. Paige, PhD, MPH
The health department called on GHRI’s Center for Community Health and Evaluation (CCHE) to help navigate the award's ambitious objectives. Known for expert program planning and evaluation, CCHE partners with foundations, nonprofits, and government agencies to support the success of community health initiatives across the country.
A unique feature of the CDC award is its focus on policy, system, and environmental changes that make healthier choices easier and more accessible for entire communities. Instead of supporting direct services, funds go to school districts, community organizations, and local governments across King County who propose collaborations that encourage healthy eating and active living, or discourage tobacco use.
"The CDC's goal is to empower different sectors to work together to affect health at these broad levels—so that emphasis on individual changes shifts to emphasis on community-level changes," explains Sarah Paige, PhD, MPH, one of four CCHE evaluators on the project.
By August 2010, the health department had awarded funds to more than 50 grantees, focusing on the communities in greatest need across the county. Examples of funded initiatives include developing healthy corner stores, changing city plans to promote walking and biking, and instituting smoke-free housing, parks, schools, and health care environments. A corresponding media campaign supports the initiative.
The CCHE team will assess which of these "upstream" changes are most likely to stimulate "downstream" improvements in community health. The health department will use CCHE's insights into which interventions were most effective and why to determine where to focus scarce resources in the future.
CCHE team member DeAnn Cromp, MPH, is excited that their discoveries will help fill a large evidence gap linking community-based intervention strategies and improved health outcomes.
"It seems like a good idea to have farmers' markets and walkable communities, but there's a lot to learn about what really works," she says. "Our evaluation can't answer every important question in two years. But it can help point the way forward."