What is ALProHealth?
ALProHealth is an obesity prevention and reduction program that is focused on increasing community health. The goal of the program is to increase access to healthier foods and opportunities for safe and affordable physical activity by empowering people to lead the charge in their communities.
The program is implemented through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University in 13 Alabama counties that have a high adult obesity prevalence. Currently, funded county participants include Barbour, Bullock, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Greene, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Perry, Sumter, and Wilcox counties.
To achieve program goals, community coalitions–which are made up of key stakeholders and community members–are formed in each of the funded counties. The purpose of creating or utilizing existing coalitions is to lead the decision-making process to determine the types of projects that will be implemented to accomplish the overarching goals of ALProHealth.
Ultimately, the success of projects or interventions is heavily dependent upon local knowledge imparted by the coalition members. The community coalitions determine their goals and implement activities or projects that can lead toward achieving those goals. Projects are focused on policy, system, or environmental (PSE) improvements that affect a larger portion of the local population more than direct education alone. When supplementing direct education with PSEs, individuals can practice the education provided by traditional programming by creating environments that may support those choices.
ALProHealth operates under two main strategic pillars, food access and physical activity.
ALProHealth works to increase both physical and financial access to healthier foods.
Increasing physical access to foods refers to increasing the availability of healthier items at locations that sell food or creating new places, like farmers markets, that offer the chance for residents to purchase healthier foods. In grocery stores and supermarkets, this can also involve highlighting certain healthy foods through product highlights, cooking demonstrations, or price reduction.
Increasing financial access refers to working with local food vendors to increase acceptance of vouchers that make healthier foods more affordable such as WIC, SNAP, and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. Additionally, many coalitions have chosen to focus on increasing access to emergency food options through projects that enhance their local food pantries.
ALProHealth also works to increase community access to opportunities for physical activity.
From 2014 to 2018, coalitions focused on enhancing the places where residents typically engage in physical activity. These included parks, trails, schools, playgrounds, and gyms. As the program has progressed, this strategy has shifted into planning for and creating activity-friendly routes that connect everyday destinations within communities, such as schools, businesses, downtowns, and residential areas.
These activity-friendly routes provide opportunities for physical activity like walking, biking, skating, scootering, and more. One of the easiest and most common ways people obtain physical activity is through walking. By creating these safe and accessible routes that provide opportunities to walk more between destinations, the program is inherently creating healthier environments.
Contributions to Community Economic Development
While the projects through ALProHealth do help combat obesity, these coalitions are also contributing to the development of their communities and creating vibrant places and spaces where people want to stop and spend time. In fact, Chambers of Commerce and Main Street organizations have been some of ALProHealth’s more valuable partners, as their mission and goals overlap with projects implemented by the coalitions.
For example, the coalition in Monroe County is participating in placemaking around the county through their smART Moves Mural Trail. This trail is a collection of selfie-style murals that are meant to promote tourism throughout the county.
Another example is in Barbour County, where their coalition members have focused on enhancing a public space near the Chamber of Commerce. Through this space, they are working to connect residents to downtown with more walking and biking opportunities that lead to the Yoholo Micco Rail Trail.
ALProHealth is funded by the High Obesity Program (HOP) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO). Funding for this program began in October 2014 and is currently projected to continue through September 2023.