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South Florida Obesity Initiatives

Using policy change to offer healthier food options is ‘Fun’

The Florida Prevention Research Center (FPRC) at USF College of Public Health has used social marketing to improve health and prevent disease for more than 20 years.

Under the guidance of Dr. Carol Bryant, professor emeritus, the FPRC worked with the Lexington, Ky. Tween and Nutrition Coalition to create the policy initiative ‘Better Bites: Snack Strong.’

Highly successful in Kentucky, the policy initiative resulted in healthy food offerings on menus at public pools, government cafeterias, school concessions, movie theaters, restaurants, summer camps and the Kentucky State Park system.

An example of the healthier food options that were available to students following the policy change. (Photo courtesy of Khaliq Pasha)

According to Dr. Mahmooda Khaliq Pasha, an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Family Health, success for the FPRC has resided in the creation of the community based prevention marketing (CBPM) framework, which combines social marketing, community wisdom and control along with public health advocacy to bring about sustainable change.

The second iteration of the CBPM framework focused on policy development and was designed to assist coalitions in selecting, tailoring, implementing and evaluating evidence based programs and policies that promote behavior change.

Posters created and used to indicate availability of healthier food. (Photo courtesy of Khaliq Pasha)

They decided to translate this same work in Florida’s Pinellas County.

“In Pinellas, an estimated 29 to 33.5 percent of preschool students are overweight or obese, as are one in three high school students,” Khaliq Pasha said.

According to Khaliq Pasha, the Healthy Pinellas Consortium (HPC), a Florida Department of Health community coalition, was tasked with addressing this public health problem and learned about the Tween’s Coalition work and success with Better Bites.

Wanting to replicate the effort in Florida, the HPC worked with Khaliq Pasha, who served as the training and technical assistance lead for the FPRC, to bring Better Bites to Florida.

“For the FPRC, our previous and ongoing research is focused on improving the CBPM framework so that it is used widely,” Khaliq Pasha said. “This work in Florida was quite important for us as it showed our ability to translate our work from one setting to another.”

Using the newly created CBPM for Policy Development training website, the HPC worked through the framework to arrive at the conclusion that part of the solution is to make nutritious choices easier for families managing after-school activities for their children.

“Recreational facilities and sporting events encourage physical activity and healthy living, yet, send a contradictory message by offering unhealthy snacks and limiting a person’s ability to make healthy choices,” Khaliq Pasha said.

With technical assistance from the FPRC, Tween’s Coalition, and nutritionists, the Fun Bites initiative was born.

The City of Largo was the first to use Fun Bites in its city concessions, followed closely by the City of St. Petersburg.

Areas implementing the Fun Bites initiative. (Photo courtesy of Khaliq Pasha)

Currently, Fun Bites has been implemented widely and has led to institutional policy change, with 13 locations now serving Fun Bites and city level policy change through the enactment of policies related to community event food offerings.

Parents and concession stand fundraisers were pleasantly surprised by Fun Bites.

“We wanted to offer healthy items, but we didn’t know if our sales would be affected. We were so pleasantly surprised that sales actually went up as families discovered that making the healthy choice was the easy choice at our concession stands,” one parent stated in a report of the program.

Other counties in Florida are quickly catching on, according to Khaliq Pasha, with Pasco County expanding the initiative and Hillsborough County discussing future plans.

“Our hope is that the improvements that we make to the framework based on this experience will help other coalitions in the future to achieve Better Bites and Fun Bites success,” Kahliq Pasha said.