Updates from EIM

San Diego Childhood Obesity Initiative Promotes Physical Activity in Underserved Communities

January 10, 2023 by Dr. Ryan T. Conners, FACSM, ATC

The Exercise Is Medicine® (EIM) Underserved and Community Health Committee seeks to identify strategies and resources to integrate physical activity assessment and promotion into health care settings, connecting underserved populations with community resources to help them become more physically active. The goals of this EIM committee are grounded in the efforts and dedication that community members are making at the grassroots level. The San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative (COI), a project of the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency facilitated by the University of California San Diego ACTRI Center for Community Health, provides a stellar example of such community-based efforts.   

 The COI ensures that local partners are collaborating to ensure a healthy future for all. With over 400 partners, the COI is a multisector coalition with the mission of reducing and preventing childhood obesity by advancing policy, systems and environmental change. The COI facilitates countywide networks that bring together multiple sectors to support children’s health and well-being, including working with schools, health care providers, elected officials, community members and other audiences. The goals of the initiative include increasing access to healthful foods; increasing opportunities for safe physical activity; increasing opportunities to enhance economic, social, service, and built environments; and promoting operational excellence of public-private partnerships.   

To produce more equitable health outcomes for all children in San Diego, COI’s Community Domain workgroup has coordinated with local community resident leaders to establish a Community Council to bring vision and leadership to the direction and activities of COI. The Community Council brings together residents from various backgrounds and locations across the county to share their personal stories and expertise with other collaborators within COI.  

For example, the Comité Latino Organizador de City Heights (COLCH) organization is a partner of COI and is funded through COI’s mini-grant program. COLCH leadership and members are immigrant Latina mothers who are highly committed to the health, well-being and education of Latino children and families. They are from the City Heights community and have a fundamental understanding of local environments, challenges, and barriers to health and assets experienced by community members. COLCH is a peer-based workforce of nine women who have developed deep roots in the community and worked to build personal connections with the individuals and families they serve, thereby assuring equity and inclusion. These relationships increase understanding, trust and acceptance. COLCH also serves as a bridge between community residents and two institutional partners to assure that public policy, advocacy and research efforts are aligned with community needs, strengths and assets. 

COLCH Co-directors Maribel Arias and Delfina Alvarez created the four-month Building Champion Kids program (Formando Niños Campeones) to address and prevent obesity among children in City Heights, where the prevalence of obesity may be higher due to chronic undernutrition, lower incomes, lack of opportunities for physical activity and access to green space. The goals of the program are to expose families to safe physical activity in an inclusive and relevant manner; incorporate place-based learning whereby children and families will be exposed to new places and physical activities; and encourage participants to take control of their mental and physical health through the foods that they eat and prepare at home, leadership development, and the arts.  

In collaboration with San Diego State University’s Dr. Noe Crespo, as well as several local City Heights health and wellness businesses and nonprofits, the Building Champion Kids program will support several skill-building areas, including kickboxing, swimming, circuit training, organic community garden farming, art and healthy cooking. The participants’ immediate families are invited to attend workshops with their children so that health and wellness strategies can be practiced as a family unit. We are all looking forward to the final outcomes of this project. 

The EIM Underserved and Community Health Committee calls on ACSM professional and student members to be creative in finding ways to assist their local communities and underserved populations. For more information on the COI program, contact Blanca Melendez (bmelendrez@ucsd.edu), executive director at the UC San Diego ACTRI Center for Community Health. 


Dr. Ryan T. Conners, FACSM, ATC, is an Associate Professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Chair of the Exercise is Medicine® Underserved and Community Health Subcommittee. 

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