REACH: Healthy-by-Default grant receives funding

Gramercy Research Group receives $225,000 to promote health policies in Winston-Salem

Dr. Melicia C. Whitt-Glover, President & CEO of Gramercy Research Group, announced the company has been awarded a grant through the UCLA Healthy-by-Default REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) Project, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The funding will be used to identify policies and strategies to promote healthy eating and physical activity that can help eliminate health disparities.

“Sometimes our environment makes it hard to make healthy choices — not everyone in our community has access to fresh fruits and vegetables or opportunities to get up and move during the day,” says Whitt-Glover. This grant will bring together a multi-sector coalition of community organizations that will focus primarily on churches, schools and daycares in East Winston-Salem. The coalition will develop a community action plan and work with organizations to implement and evaluate changes to policies and the environment that support healthy eating and physical activity. The coalition will include the Forsyth County Department of Public Health, the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WS/FCS), Cancer Services, Inc., Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc., the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity, and Winston-Salem Safe Routes to School.

“Our hope is to help Gramercy in whatever way possible through our relationships, our presence, and our service as we move towards a goal of healthier communities,” says Tyler Jenkins, of the Forsyth County Department of Public Health. Some strategies being considered to increase access to healthy food include helping organizations adopt policies to ensure that appealing healthy options are accessible anytime that food is served, encouraging stores and restaurants to carry and promote healthy food and beverage selections, and helping organizations to establish healthy food fundraising policies when selling foods/snacks as a way to raise money. Physical activity strategies might include promoting a community-wide physical activity campaign, encouraging more active commuting (walking, biking) among community residents, and encouraging organizations to integrate short bouts of physical activity during organizational activities. Final strategies will be chosen during a one-day planning meeting with community representatives and the coalition will provide technical assistance to help organizations adopt these strategies and policies.

Partnering organizations have expressed their excitement about and hopes for the project. Nancy Sutton, WS/FCS Program Specialist notes, “Many times…there are not enough safe places for children and families to play and be physically active. The Winston-Salem/ Forsyth County Schools are committed to the successful futures of each and every student. We understand that good health is at the core of academic success and will work towards the goal of healthy children at every level.” Lynne Mitchell, Preventive Health Director, Forsyth County Dept. of Public Health, says “Optimal health is best achieved when people not only know what to do but live in an environment where healthy choices are easy to make… Where we live, work, and [play] impact a person’s health and health status. It is difficult to achieve health if the neighborhood you live in doesn’t support healthy options and behaviors.”

REACH will address underlying issues affecting communities’ health by focusing on policy, system and environmental change strategies to make healthy choices easier. The project aims to impact at least 75% of the African American population in East Winston. “There are many initiatives and programs in this community that promote healthy eating and physical activity,” says Whitt-Glover. “We will work within existing programs to help make the healthy choice the easiest choice to make—it’s called ‘Healthy-by-Default’.”