In late March, the Agriculture, Community and Natural Resources (ACNR) division of the American Samoa Community College hosted a special workshop to address the ongoing concern of childhood obesity in American Samoa. The Group Model Building workshop was facilitated by representatives from the Children’s Healthy Living (CHL) Center for Excellence at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, along with a specialist in the strategic practice of group model building from Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Rachel Novotny and Dr. Jean Butel, both familiar faces from previous visits to American Samoa and ACNR, along with meeting recorder Mr. Jordon Oshiro, represented the CHL, while Dr. Peter Hovmand from Case Western University guided the actual model-building process along with ACNR staff.
In addition to personnel from the various ACNR divisions, participants from the local public and private sector included representatives from the Department of Health (DOH), the DOH Community Health Center, the Early Childhood Education Program, the Department of Education School Lunch Program, the Department of Human and Social Services – WIC, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with private sector business Tutuila Green Ltd.
Dr. Novotny began the workshop with an overview of the CHL, whose mission is to address the causes of childhood obesity and other health-related concerns, and work with communities in the US Affiliated Pacific region to create an environment that promotes and sustains healthier lifestyles. A challenge such as the rise in childhood obesity, Dr. Novotny explained, is the result of multiple factors, including the prevailing social, cultural, economic and logistical conditions in any given community. The strategy of group model building represents a “big picture” approach by gathering as many of these factors as possible and ana how they affect child diet and health, with the goal of finding strategies which can lead to significant and sustained improvement of child health.
With the workshop participants organized into groups, the group model building process, led by Dr. Hovmand with assistance from ACNR staff member Mrs. Molly Lagai in the role of the workshop’s Community Facilitator, followed four stages. For the first, “Hopes & Fears”, the groups wrote down their own list of factors they could think of which influence dietary health for better or worse. For the second, “Graphs Over Time” each group chose a factor from their list that can change over time, and created a graph based on this dynamic. The third stage consisted of the groups creating “Connection Circles” which illustrated how one factor connected with one or more others. The final stage was “Action Ideas” where the groups considered the time element and connections they had previously identified, and whether these suggested actions that could cause positive changes.
In this procedure, the initial “prototype” model is a visual rendering of how factors relate, and how modifying one can cause changes in another. This forms a conceptual basis from which to create a data driven-model to evaluate effects of different strategies for addressing a problem. In this instance, the challenge is childhood diet and obesity, and it is the aim of the workshop facilitators and ACNR that this strategy-building technique can assist the local public and private agencies, in their own efforts and in collaborations, to address the overall health of the community in general and children in particular.
This year, the CHL plans to make funding available to organizations and/or individuals with projects that support the Center’s goals. A Request for Proposals (RFP) will be made available in May of this year for people to apply for CHL funding to design new innovative programs that address food system resiliency and child health; redesign existing programs to connect food system resiliency and child health; and/or develop skills to measure food systems and health programs. Full details of these funding opportunities can be found at the CHL website (https://www.chl-pacific.org) in the category “Extension and Outreach Center”.
The ASCC-ACNR management and staff extends its thanks to its CHL visitors from Hawaii for presenting the workshop, and to the members of the local public and private sectors who attended.