CARE Partnering With New Haven in Battle Against Chronic Disease

Beginning this summer, New Haven will become a global showcase for proactive health care intervention as the first U.S. city to participate in an international project to address chronic disease: Community Interventions for Health (CIH).

Working alongside the city in this effort — which will be launched formally at this year’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas — will be Yale’s Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE).

CIH is a groundbreaking initiative to further scientific knowledge about the effectiveness of community interventions to reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases. The CIH program includes identifying neighborhood assets, interviewing children and adults, and developing and implementing policies and programs to improve health in neighborhoods, schools, work sites and health care centers. In addition to New Haven, cities in Mexico, India, China and the United Kingdom are also taking part in the initiative.

CIH is spearheaded globally by the non-profit Oxford Health Alliance and locally by the Yale CARE program.

CARE is a community-university partnership that works to improve health in New Haven through the use of evidence-based programs and policies. It brings together representatives from city government, schools, the New Haven Health Department, health care providers, community organizations, local businesses and philanthropic agencies, along with faculty, administrators and students at Yale.

The program is directed by Jeannette Ickovics, professor of epidemiology and public health and of psychology at Yale, whose research focuses on the interplay of the complex psychological, medial and social factors that influence the health of individuals and the community, as well as the challenges faced by those who have been marginalized by the health care system.

CARE is part of the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI), which aims to translate health care research from “bench to bedside.” CARE takes this goal one step further - bringing new findings “from bedside to community” through its work, which includes conducting and funding primary research in New Haven; building education and health delivery services; and disseminating information. CARE is funded through federal dollars (from the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control) as well as through philanthropic grants (from The Donaghue Foundation).

Today, chronic diseases are the most prevalent and costly of all health problems, notes Ickovics, adding that they are also the most preventable - yet 7 of every 10 Americans die each year of chronic disease.

In comparison to Connecticut and the United States as a whole, New Haven is at elevated risk for chronic diseases and negative health outcomes, says Ickovics. For example, high rates of obesity among New Haven’s children (50% greater than across the state and the nation) put them at elevated risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Minority populations living in poverty are particularly vulnerable to these health risks, adds Ickovics, noting that this includes 28% of African Americans and 35% of Latinos in New Haven (and 40% of all African-American and Latino children under age 5).

CARE would like to help reverse these trends, says Ickovics, adding that the New Haven and Yale communities need to work together if any impact is to be made.

“We must engage the people in our community as true partners,” she says. “We must gain their trust and respect, developing and sustaining community-university partnerships through collaborative action. We hope that innovative research conducted at Yale can be translated into vital policies and programs to prevent disease and promote the health of our citizens right here in New Haven.”

Noting that Yale and leaders of New Haven have already come together to achieve economic and social development in the community, Ickovics says she and her colleagues believe that it’s time to bring these same forces together to address chronic disease and health disparities.

Since the program began in May 2007, CARE has sponsored a Diabetes Awareness Day at the Dixwell-Yale University Community Learning Center. It has also awarded funding to community-university research projects on childhood obesity prevention intervention (led by Fair Haven Community Health Center and the Yale Department of Pediatrics) and youth violence reduction intervention (coordinated by investigators from New Haven Public Schools, Community Mediation Inc., Yale School of Public Health and the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center).

CARE has also worked jointly with local groups to leverage common community interests with an eye toward improving health. For example, CARE actively collaborates with the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven in The Chatham Square Neighborhood Association (CSNA) in Fair Haven, a group that is addressing the issues of neighborhood revitalization and safety. To drive out the drug dealers and sex workers who would gather in a local park throughout the night and into the early hours of the day, a group of women from CSNA started an early-morning walking group. This group circled the park for one hour each day. Soon the criminal activity tapered, and the community took back its park.

Although improving neighborhood safety was the group’s primary mission, its activities also gave CARE an opportunity to highlight the link between walking and improved health, notes Ickovics.

CIH launch at festival

CARE will formally launch the CIH New Haven initiative during the Family Weekend being held Saturday-Sunday, June 20-21 at the New Haven Green.

“We expect that our collaborations at the festival will generate awareness and excitement about creating a vibrant and healthy community,” says Ickovics. “We are working to mobilize individuals and community agencies to leverage their expertise and resources as partners in this effort.”

In addition, Ickovics says she hopes the CIH-sponsored programs at the festival will motivate people to take their health into their own hands. These activities will include:

Art: Children and adults will be invited to create “Milagros,” prayer flags and a pledge wall, expressing their hopes for individual, family and community health.

Food: Tim Cipriano (a.k.a. the “Food Dude”), food service director for New Haven Public Schools, and area students will conduct a cooking demonstration of healthy recipes from a range of cultural traditions using locally grown items. CitySeed, the Garden Committee of the New Haven Land Trust, and Yale’s Rudd Center for Obesity and Food Policy will be present to promote nutritious local foods.

Exercise: Local fitness leader Mubarakah Ibrahim from Balance Fitness Studio will lead classes each afternoon. There will also be group walks to the festival from local neighborhoods, as well as other fitness activities.

Action: Using webcasts, blogs and other new media, youth at The Color of Words, a digital writing project for youth, will document activities. (They will also record digital stories of “local heroes” as CIH continues in the years ahead, notes Ickovics.) Information about the expanded Elm City Resident Card, and opportunities to get a card will be available.

The CIH programs will also include an opportunity to create an altar to healing as part of the “Holy Cows” program being led by Peabody Museum curator Michael Anderson (see related story).

“The festival is an important beginning,” says Ickovics. “We hope that Community Interventions for Health will offer those from the New Haven and Yale communities a meaningful and rewarding opportunity for collective action. Our goal is to develop and implement health-promoting policies and programs that can be sustained long after the festival stages come down.”

For more information on YCCI and CARE and to become a partner at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, CIH or other CARE initiatives, visit the website at http://ycci.yale.edu/outreach/care.html, click on “I CARE.”

— By Helen Dodson

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Media Contact

Helen Dodson: helen.dodson@yale.edu, 203-436-3984