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Local Public Health Departments in California: Changing Nutrition and Physical Activity Environments for Obesity Prevention

Schwarte, Liz MPH; Samuels, Sarah E. DrPH; Boyle, Maria MS, RD; Clark, Sarah E. BA; Flores, George MD, MPH; Prentice, Bob PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: March-April 2010 - Volume 16 - Issue 2 - p e17–e28
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e3181af63bb

The purpose of this research was to assess California public health departments capacity, practices, and resources for changing nutrition and physical activity environments for obesity prevention. The researchers surveyed key public health department personnel representing all 61 health departments in California using a Web-based survey tool. The response rate for the survey was 62 percent. This represented a 93 percent health department response rate. Analysis was conducted on the individual respondent and public health department levels and stratified by metropolitan statistical area and foundation-funded versus not foundation-funded. Public health departments are engaged in obesity prevention including environmental and policy change approaches. The majority of respondents stated that monitoring obesity rates and providing leadership for obesity prevention are important roles for public health. Health departments are involved in advocacy for healthier eating and/or physical activity in school environments and the development and monitoring of city/county policies to improve the food and/or physical activity environments. Funding and staff skill may influence the degree of public health department engagement in obesity prevention. A majority of respondents rate their staffing capacity for improving nutrition and physical activity environments as inadequate. Access to flexible foundation funding may influence how public health departments engage in obesity prevention.

This article summarizes findings from the public health departments and Obesity Prevention Survey that assessed California public health departments' capacity, practices, resources, and opportunities for changing nutrition and physical activity environments for obesity prevention.

Liz Schwarte, MPH, is Senior Associate, Samuels & Associates, Oakland, California. She provides research, evaluation, and strategic planning services to foundations, universities, health departments, and nonprofit organizations. Her current evaluation projects include The California Endowment's Healthy Eating, Active Communities program and the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program.

Sarah E. Samuels, DrPH, is President, Samuels & Associates, Oakland, California. She serves on the steering committees of California Project LEAN, Network for a Healthy California, Strategic Alliance to Promote Healthy Food and Physical Activity Environments, and on the board of California Food Policy Advocates.

Maria Boyle, MS, RD, is Associate, Samuels & Associates, Oakland, California. Maria specializes in development and evaluation of maternal and child health, and food and nutrition programs and policies.

Sarah E. Clark, BA, is Former Research Assistant, Samuels & Associates, Oakland, California.

George Flores, MD, MPH, is Senior Program Officer, The California Endowment's Healthy Communities/Disparities in Health Program, Oakland, California.

Bob Prentice, PhD, is Director, Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII) and Senior Associate, Public Health Policy & Practice, Public Health Institute, Oakland, California.

Corresponding Author: Sarah E. Samuels, DrPH, Samuels & Associates, 1222 Preservation Pkwy, Oakland, CA 94612 (

This work was funded by The California Endowment.

The authors would like to express their gratitude to the following individuals who have made contributions to this research: Sarah Stone-Francisco, Dr Jennifer Poirier, Bina Patel, and Steven Gelber; and to Dr Antronette Yancey for her review.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.