News: Local

Posted on Feb 8, 2016

Goal II Case Study: Columbus, Ohio

The city of Columbus, Ohio, population 822,553, has earned a gold medal for its work on Goal II: MyPlate, Your Place of Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties, a key part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative. Using a policy, systems and environmental approach to improving health, the city works to make the healthy choice the easy choice for residents. One way the city of Columbus works to improve residents’ nutritional status is by incorporating MyPlate into health programming and policies in an effort to educate as many community members as possible about healthy eating. MyPlate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) icon that has replaced the food pyramid, is a visual reminder to make healthier, balanced choices at meal times.

Goal II: MyPlate, Your Place

To empower parents and caregivers, local elected officials commit to prominently displaying MyPlate in all municipally- or county-owned or operated venues that offer or sell food/beverages.

Identifying venues

To identify city venues where MyPlate could be displayed, the Columbus Public Health Department, in partnership with Healthy Columbus, tapped into a network of city workers affiliated with the Healthy Columbus Employee Wellness Program. As part of the program, most city departments have a staff member who serves as a health ambassador. Working with these ambassadors, public health staff determined which venues that offer or sell food/beverages should post MyPlate. In order to maximize the number of city staff exposed to MyPlate, the Columbus Public Health Department prioritized identifying food venues that serve large numbers of city employees. In total, Columbus Public Health staff and their community partners identified over 100 different locations to display MyPlate posters.

Disseminating MyPlate

Columbus Public Health staff found that the most effective and efficient way to disseminate MyPlate posters was to identify a point person in each city department to be responsible for ensuring MyPlate is displayed wherever food is served in their building. Having a central contact has been especially effective as a way of disseminating posters to departments that have multiple facilities in which food is served, such as the recreation and parks, public utilities and public safety departments. For example, through a central contact at the fire department, Columbus Public Health Department staff were able to distribute posters to fire stations throughout the city, reaching over 1,500 firefighters. This strategy has been important to Columbus’ success with Goal II because it ensures the message that “the healthy choice is the easy choice” reaches many city employees without placing unmanageable demands on staff members working to implement the goal.

After deciding to go with the strategy of using a central contact in each city department to disseminate MyPlate materials, Public Health staff faced the challenge of identifying who those points of contacts would be. While many departments had health ambassadors willing to make sure MyPlate was displayed in their buildings, this was not always the case. In some instances, the process of finding the right person to serve as lead in each department took more time than anticipated. However, Columbus Public Health Department staff report that taking the time to identify city employees willing to be champions for MyPlate was worth it, because it greatly improved the implementation process for Goal II.

Logistically, Columbus has found it difficult to ensure that MyPlate posters remain on display in every city facility where food is served. However, having point people who are aware of MyPlate and can keep an eye out for the posters makes the process of monitoring them much easier.

MyPlate in the Community

Columbus Public Health staff recognize MyPlate as an effective educational resource on nutrition that can be easily disseminated for a widespread impact. Beyond displaying MyPlate at municipally-owned or operated food venues, staff use a variety of strategies to incorporate MyPlate into their policy, systems and environmental approaches to health in an effort to positively influence the nutritional habits of as many community members as possible.

Recently, public health staff designed a placemat with the city of Columbus’ personalized MyPlate graphic. The placemats have been used as giveaways at over 100 community events, including health fairs and former Mayor Michael Coleman’s Neighborhood Pride events. The public health staff also use a six-foot-tall poster about MyPlate at community events and other occasions.

Another way public health staff have brought MyPlate into the Columbus community is by including the resource in the city’s policy work, specifically in relation to Healthy Children, Healthy Weights, a major program designed to prevent childhood obesity by promoting healthy weight and growth in all children, starting at birth. As part of the program, MyPlate placemats have been given to each child at over 200 child care centers in Columbus, reaching approximately 12,000 children.

The Columbus Public Health Department uses its strong relationship with the Columbus School District to ensure MyPlate is included as a part of the nutrition education curriculum in 43 Pre-K classrooms. MyPlate is also used as part of the healthy menu-planning curriculum for trainings targeted to early care and education providers. Finally, all nine of the city’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clinics use MyPlate as a nutrition module; over 8,000 mothers have received information about MyPlate since 2013.

By incorporating MyPlate into messaging, policies and programs, Columbus Public Health staff are able to share the tool with a greater number of residents, including some of Columbus’ youngest community members, who, with the help of MyPlate, are learning to establish healthy eating habits at a young age.