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Nashville Collaborative celebrates 10th anniversary

Aug. 2, 2018, 10:25 AM

The Nashville Collaborative partnership between Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Nashville Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation is celebrating 10 years of working to improve children’s health. (photo by Kristi Irving)

The Nashville Collaborative, a unique academic-community partnership between Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Nashville Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation, recently celebrated 10 years of work aimed at improving children’s health through family-based, community-centered programs.

To mark the milestone, the collaborative recently hosted a celebration event for children, neighborhood families and local and state leaders in health.

The Nashville Collaborative’s mission is to develop and test innovative, potentially sustainable, evidence-based, family-centered, community-based programs that measurably improve child and family health, prevent chronic disease and reduce health disparities.

Since forming in 2008, the group has conducted landmark research, influenced policy and offered public programs to encourage lifestyle changes for families, including skills-building classes and after-school programming to increase physical activity.

So far, there have been more than 30 journal articles based on work of the collaborative, including in Pediatrics and the Journal of Obesity, and members of the team have presented at international and national meetings, garnering awards from the International Child Health Congress and the Tennessee American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Ten years means a lot to us as a unique academic-community partnership. This is not about conducting one project at a time; it’s about a much larger vision of how we get to better health for our community,” said Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS, executive director of the Nashville Collaborative, chief of the Division of Academic General Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital and William K. Warren Foundation Professor.

“When you see that this type of initiative becomes a magnet for multiple partners in the community, that’s when you know you’ve created something bigger than one project at a time, one partner at time. You have created unity behind a purpose and progress that can be sustained.”

That purpose perhaps has a greater sense of urgency as the United States and Tennessee grapple with childhood health issues and chronic diseases. Tennessee now ranks No. 1 in the nation for childhood obesity, with 38 percent of children considered overweight or obese, according to the state health scorecard recently put out by The Commonwealth Fund.

“This is when we don’t want to be No. 1,” said Barkin, noting that the Nashville Collaborative was created as a learning lab to test what works and what doesn’t for sustained better health for children and families, which hopefully then can be exported and tailored to fit the needs of communities not only in Tennessee but across the country.

The group is already taking what it has learned works and trying to scale it up to include more children and families, and potentially more communities. As a prime example, in the spring, Children’s Hospital and Metro Parks announced an expanded initiative for their healthy cooking classes for children called Teaching Kitchen Outreach, which included sessions in all 25 Metro Parks community centers and served more than 600 children in the first few months of the project’s launch.

That program grew out of an initial successful project based at only four community centers with fewer than 100 children.

“We are so grateful for our long-term partnership with Monroe Carell Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The revelations that have come through the work of the Nashville Collaborative are groundbreaking,” said Metro Parks Director Monique Odom. “Through our work with Dr. Barkin and her team we have been able to help families develop healthier lifestyles, learn about the fitness, wellness and health services in the community, and become more cohesive as a family unit. All of those accomplishments support a stronger Nashville community. We are looking forward to our continued work with the Nashville Collaborative.”

Among the many findings from the collaborative’s work:

  • A 12-week skills-building program aimed at improving both parent and preschool child health reduces short-term pediatric obesity;
  • Preschool-age children from low-income families are more likely to be physically active if parents increase activity and reduce their sedentary behavior; and
  • Most preschool-age children manage to get enough recommended daily physical activity, but how they move varies with noticeable differences between boys and girls, and this should direct practice and policy for preschool age children.

“Being involved in this partnership for 10 years means the world to me. Together we’ve developed and sustained groundbreaking, multigenerational programs changing health outcomes,” said Stevon Neloms, assistant parks director of the Community Programs Division. “This partnership has changed the way we program in our community centers and the way staff conduct our operations. I look forward to the next 10 years of the Nashville Collaborative.”

More than a dozen organizations are now part of the collaborative programs including Nashville Public Library Foundation, the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness (Healthier Tennessee) and Second Harvest Food Bank. Organizations represented on the Community Advisory Board include Metro Nashville Public Schools, Head Start, Conexion Americas, YMCA, United Way, the office of Mayor David Briley and the Tennessee Department of Health, among others.

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