Published: June 11, 2007
Americans – especially children–are more obese with higher rates of diabetes than ever in our history. What if the most proven public health interventions for combating the enormous chronic-disease burden facing our citizens were at the fingertips of staff and volunteers from your neighborhood YMCA?
That's exactly what a cutting-edge partnership between CDC and YMCA of the USA ( Y-USA ) hopes to accomplish. The partnership links CDC's resources and technical expertise with YMCAs nationally to deploy the most promising, evidence-based community interventions to reduce disease burden and improve people's health. Uniquely, the partnership is already going beyond health prevention programs, to include coalition building at the local level leading to lasting policy and systems change across multiple sectors and settings.
It's a partnership that makes perfect sense to both entities: CDC gains a broad distribution channel into thousands of communities, and YMCAs can tap into CDC's public health expertise. Y-USA is the national resource office for the nation's 2,617 YMCAs, which serve more than 20.2 million people each year (half under the age of 18), uniting men, women and children of all ages, faiths, backgrounds, abilities and income levels in 10,000 communities across the nation.
"This really is an amazing partnership – the way you get public health work done in the country is through partnerships like this," says Janet Collins , PhD, director, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, which is the lead CDC Center working with Y-USA. "The Ys are embedded in their communities and are very much a trusted resource. They also are engaged in communities beyond the YMCA's walls, offering programs for physical activity and nutritional-health programming as well as reaching out to support their community's schools and other institutions."
Katie Adamson, director of Health Partnerships and Policy, Y-USA, notes that Y-USA considers the CDC partnership critical to ensuring its community health efforts are grounded in the best available science and practice and involve multiple sectors.
"Our goal is to mobilize the YMCA movement to be the arms and legs on the ground in the community to help convene, coordinate and advance policies and programs in areas of healthy eating and active living," she says. "This partnership allows local YMCAs to exercise greater leadership in their local community areas to support healthier living."
One outcome of this work will be the launch of a chronic disease, community health web portal, later this year. Michael Sells, MSPH, public health educator in CDC's Community Health & Program Services Branch, who initiated development of the web portal, says the portal will provide easy access to CDC-based resources on proven public health interventions and evaluation tools.
"We're going to use everyday language to better reach community health workers, who do not have a formal public health background," he says, adding that the portal will cover specific chronic disease health topics, and will guide visitors by asking them a series of questions. "We also will provide tips for how to find and apply for CDC funding and the best tools for evaluating community health programs."
For CDC's part, the Y-USA national partnership represents the beginning of what the agency hopes to be the model for how to partner with other national community-based organizations.
"The development of this national partnership model that will help us reach out to other potential national partners, including the Boys & Girls Club, the National Recreation and Park Association, the Scouts, and United Way," concluded Collins. "We are currently capturing the key decisions and processes that are most significant to this successful collaboration."
CDC and the YMCA are no strangers to partnering. They work closely together on both Steps to a HealthierUS and Pioneering Healthier Communities (PHC). PHC is the heart of the YMCA's Activate America® initiative that is rallying YMCAs nationally to further assist kids, adults, and families who want to lead a healthy lifestyle. YMCAs in 46 communities are a part of PHC, which practices key community-based strategies to reduce barriers and increase support for healthy living in communities.
Y-USA is the lead national partner for the Steps to a HealthierUS initiative of CDC to encourage Americans to take steps toward a healthier lifestyle. Since 2003, Steps has funded programs targeting obesity, diabetes and asthma and their underlying risk factors: physical inactivity, poor nutrition and tobacco use. In 2004, Y-USA received a four-year, $2 million grant to work with YMCAs to help increase the local capacity of the 40 Steps communities nationwide.