The importance of Early Community Involvement in Commitments

By Katie Merritt

Having a public health background, the Globalization of Chronic Disease working session on Saturday caught my attention at the CGI-U conference. The discussion with Thuy Yu, Doyin Oluwole, Phil Southerland, and Sonya Shin inspired reflections about my commitment to characterize food access inequity in the District. Sonya Shin had moved to Arizona to address chronic disease via food access within the Najavo Nation and empower the community to be independent and gain their own food sovereignty. Fixing a biological problem such as chronic diseases with social or behavioral solutions is a common strategy among public health interventions. It is key in addressing food access inequities.

Dr. Shin’s story reminded me of Community-Based Participatory Research, a type of epidemiology that partners with communities during the design phase of the study. These studies build trust between the community and researchers as they share a similar mission, are transparent with their results, and leverage shared resources. Speaking to Dr. Shin following the session she recommended religious sites as a portal to approach communities and build relationships. Characterizing a baseline of sustainable food access within a District will just be a first step before interventions can measure change in food access. As my partners and I prepare to start our data collection this spring, it has become clear to me the importance of involving the communities of Wards 5, 7, and 8 as we expand our pilot and consider next steps for a complete assessment. For instance, what information is this population interested in knowing that can help them make healthier consumer choices given the access in their neighborhood? In closing I would like to share a phrase that summarizes this observation as advice to fellow commitment makers interested in making change in a community other than their own: “If the problem is in the community, the solution is in the community.”