El Paso County in the state of Texas has become famous for the increasing levels of childhood obesity in the region. The situation has spurred anti-childhood obesity advocacy efforts in the county. The paper addresses how these advocacy efforts have helped influence people’s current attitudes and policies. The paper also explores the changes in the social and political climate in the past decade regarding anti- childhood obesity advocacy. It also identifies the advocacy stakeholders and their roles in the process. Finally, the paper discusses the evolution of the advocacy efforts based on the interaction of human systems.
Change of the Social and Political Climate
Childhood obesity levels in El Paso in the early 2000s were not as high as they are in the present time. The social climate was inactive, and people were not interested in advocating for healthy living. Among the Latin- Americans, the dominant ethnic group in the county, children who were overweight were considered healthy. However, with time the consequences of childhood obesity like type 2 diabetes became apparent. Socially, people started seeing the importance of advocacy programs. In 2008, programs that advocated for the adoption of a healthy lifestyle in El Paso started being initiated. The political environment also started changing. In 2004, the then Texas Senator Ken Seliger instructed El Paso's health department to work on the childhood obesity problem. The department conducted a survey that showed El Paso’s childhood obesity rates being fifteen times higher than the country's average rates. It was a wakeup call to both the social and political world. In 2009, the U.S. Congress instructed the Institute of Medicine to work with Texas lawmakers to address the childhood obesity problem in Austin and El Paso counties. They conducted a workshop discussing ways of preventing obesity including establishing advocacy programs to promote healthy living. The then Texas Governor Rick Perry identified childhood obesity as the state’s most serious threat. Since then several advocacy programs have been established in the county supported by both the social and political world.
Influence of Advocacy Efforts on Current Attitudes and Policies
The advocacy efforts of the Health Kids Healthy Communities El Paso program through meetings and seminars held with the community have significantly changed the residents perception on healthy living in the county. In 2012, the Chamizal neighborhood residents in El Paso petitioned the City Council to adopt a Vulnerable Road User Ordinance. The policy was to protect pedestrians especially children. It was a way of promoting an active lifestyle. The city council complied with the petition and established thirteen walking paths to support the active transportation of children from houses to parks, and bus stops. The program has also conducted seminars and meetings exposing the adverse effects of obesity and encouraging the adoption of an energetic way of life and healthy living for their children. The seminars changed the attitudes of the community, especially Latin-American parents. In the same year, the community collaborated with the City Council to implement long-term healthy living measures in the country. The council adopted a resolution called a healthy eating and active living action plan. It also approved a ten-year comprehensive master plan aimed at eliminating childhood obesity in the County.
The Stakeholders and their Role in the Advocacy Process
Different organizations head various anti-childhood obesity advocacy programs in El Paso County. The primary stakeholder is the Healthy Kids Healthy Counties program. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is responsible for funding the program. The program provides grants to the community to research on childhood obesity and the promotion of healthy living through annual anti-obese work plans organized by goals and benchmarks. The program also provides the local advocacy partners with technical assistance in drafting health law policies.
Another key stakeholder is El Paso's City Council. Its health and housing departments collaborate with other stakeholders to enforce policies aimed at promoting healthy living in the county. It has developed community walking paths throughout the county to encourage children to walk to school and parks. La Mujer Obrera is another stakeholder. It is a local women’s cooperative established by the employees of the now closed Levi’s clothing store. The cooperative opened a farmer’s market in Mayapan region of the county. The cooperative sells vegetables and fruits enabling the community to access healthy foods. The cooperative also offers day care and after-school exercise activities for children in the county. Project Vida is also a stakeholder in the county’s advocacy process. It is a non-profit organization located in Chamizal area in the county. It opened an eco-club branch in the county that enforces environmental changes in the county. These changes like the establishment of parks and walking paths encourage an lively lifestyle among the county’s children. Univision TV is also a stakeholder. The television station provides a widespread promotional tour of the activities of the advocacy stakeholders. It has a program called, "Nos Frontera" meaning our border that is dedicated to promoting healthy living in the county.
The Evolution of Advocacy Efforts
Human beings have come a long way in the development of their interaction systems. Consequently, this has influenced the conduction of advocacy efforts on anti-childhood obesity. In the past, the only way people in the county could interact and promote advocacy programs was through the television or face to face meetings. However, with the decrease in face to face human interactions and the advancement of social media and the internet the world has become a global village. It has prompted an increase in advocacy efforts in El Paso on anti-child hood obesity. Social media sites such as Facebook, twitter and YouTube are useful in providing a forum for the community to air their views on advocacy programs. Through these forums, the anti-childhood obesity advocates educate the public on ways of maintaining an active lifestyle. The advocacy programs are currently able to reach millions of people beyond the county. For example, the eco-club has a website that tutors citizens on having a healthy lifestyle. Univision TV also has a YouTube portal with videos of the county’s eco club plans that campaign for the promotion of an energetic way of life.
Advocacy efforts promoting the eradication of childhood obesity in El Paso have evolved. In the past, the programs were conducted through face to face meetings with a small group of people. In the current world, these efforts can reach millions of people within a short period. It is attributed to the evolution of the interaction of human systems. The evolution has also inspired change in the social and political climate in El Paso regarding the problem of childhood obesity. Both socially and politically, people are campaigning for healthy living and the adoption of an active lifestyle in the county. The advocacy efforts have also influenced the creation of several policies aimed at eradicating childhood obesity in the county. Hopefully, the number of advocacy stakeholders in El Paso will increase in the future, and the county will finally be able to eradicate the childhood obesity problem.