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Using Community Advisory Boards to Reduce Environmental Barriers to Health in American Indian Communities, Wisconsin, 2007–2012
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    Background

    American Indian communities have a high prevalence of chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Innovative community-based approaches are needed to identify, prioritize, and create sustainable interventions to reduce environmental barriers to healthy lifestyles and ultimately improve health.

    Community Context

    Healthy Children, Strong Families was a family-based and community-based intervention to increase healthy lifestyles on Wisconsin American Indian reservations. This intervention arose from a long-standing partnership between University of Wisconsin researchers and 3 of these American Indian communities.

    Methods

    In each community, community advisory boards (CABs) were established by the residents and university partners. CAB meetings were open and held at various times and locations to increase member participation. CABs featured continual, snowball recruitment; internal and external expert consultation; and coordination with standing tribal committees. Meetings initially focused on understanding community supports for and barriers to healthy lifestyles but quickly turned toward community action for change.

    Outcome

    CAB interventions decreased environmental barriers to health at each site and improved options for healthy lifestyle choices. Over 5 years, 71 CAB meetings occurred with a total of 1,070 participants. Successful CAB interventions included planting community gardens and an apple orchard, conducting gardening and canning workshops, instituting food-related policies and dog control regulations, building an environmentally friendly playground, and providing access to recreational facilities. The CABs are now self-sustaining.

    Interpretation

    CABs can be highly effective action teams capable of improving community environments. Our experience shows that academic researchers can partner with community residents to generate programs and policies that will expand access to local food, increase people’s choices for engaging in physical activity, and encourage local policy changes that improve overall community health.