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Advocacy Group Uses Local Data To Influence Statewide Policy

chieving policy change through statewide advocacy is no easy feat. But one public health organization is showing advocates that a little detailed information goes a long way.

Armed with public health data specific to each legislative district, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) is forging relationships between local community advocates and legislators to improve nutritional standards and develop policies that promote healthy eating and physical activity habits. By analyzing data on public health issues such as childhood overweight and physical fitness levels by legislative district, CCPHA is creating an avenue in which grassroots advocates can inform and educate state policymakers on key public health concerns.

In January 2001, TCWF awarded CCPHA a two-year, $200,000 grant to increase its advocacy capacity at the state level. Founded in 1999, CCPHA’s mission is to raise awareness about public health issues and mobilize communities to support effective health policy. With its TCWF grant, CCPHA is developing fundraising plans and a communications strategy to enhance its nutrition and fitness advocacy work.

“Organizations like CCPHA play a crucial role in bridging the gap between public health experts, grassroots community activists and policymakers,” said Ruth Holton, TCWF director of public policy. “They are an integral force in informing public policy that promotes healthier lifestyles for all Californians.”

In the past two years, CCPHA has made significant strides in developing state and local legislation that addresses the root causes of unhealthy lifestyles. The organization sponsored SB 19, a landmark bill that established nutrition standards for food and beverages sold in California elementary schools. The bill was prompted by information that state Sen. Martha Escutia received from CCPHA’s grassroots team in her district. Another major accomplishment has been a ban on unhealthy beverages and junk food in all schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. CCPHA offered technical assistance to the school board member who authored the resolution.

CCPHA Executive Director Harold Goldstein attributes a number of tactics to the success of the organization’s advocacy efforts. Among them are providing policymakers with data that are specific to their legislative district, using streamlined educational materials with specific policy recommendations, adopting skilled media advocacy practices, building relationships with policymakers, training and supporting local activists, and involving youth in local advocacy efforts.

“TCWF funding has helped the center become a leading advocate for nutrition and physical activity policy reform,” Goldstein said. “California is now at the forefront of the growing national movement to address the social and economic conditions that perpetuate unhealthy eating and physical activity habits, rather than treating the epidemic solely as a matter of individual responsibility.”

With its grant, CCPHA has been able to open an office in Sacramento, which has dramatically enhanced its visibility among advocates and policymakers throughout the state. The grant has also allowed CCPHA to hire an experienced assistant director, develop a website to give the public easy access to materials, obtain a grant writer to increase its funding base, and become its own fiscal agent.

Goldstein said that CCPHA has a goal of expanding its statewide network of advocates to 2,500 next year and identifying one person in every legislative district to be a liaison, which would dramatically increase its ability to impact policy.

For more information, please visit www.publichealthadvocacy.org.

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