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Visual sociology -- Methodology, Obesity in children, Schools -- Health promotion services


It is widely acknowledged that equitable and sustainable public policy can only be achieved when it is informed by the concerns, hopes, and experiences of those who are affected. Public agencies wishing to engage recent immigrants can find this to be challenging, however. Effective public participation and civic engagement can be difficult when community members cannot speak English and/or come from very different cultural and political environments. The Chronic Disease Prevention Program (CDPP) of the Multnomah County Health Department and Metro, two public agencies serving the Portland, Oregon region, have actively sought to learn from the experiences of immigrant community members.

Concerned about the obesity epidemic among youth, especially in Latino populations where obesity rates are particularly high (National Survey of Children’s Health, 2007), the Multnomah County CDPP was awarded a 5-year grant from the Northwest Health Foundation to engage in a participatory research and education project, the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) initiative, to gain a deeper understanding of the root causes of poor nutrition and inactivity in a community of recent Latino immigrants in north Portland and to provide them with healthy eating and active living education and opportunities.

For this initiative, the CDPP adopted a socio-ecological model of health that recognizes that human behavior is a product of intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, environmental, and policy influences; the project was specifically designed to address all of these dimensions. It was hoped that the education and skill development offered by the project would not only lead to individual behavior change but that the HEAL initiative’s strategies would influence larger community norms and affect policy change.

What follows is a more detailed discussion of the rationale for choosing Photovoice for the HEAL initiative, some of the challenges we faced in recruiting participants for the project, a description of the PhotoVoice methodology (specifically the stages of the Photovoice process and how it worked in this case), some examples of the products and findings of the Photovoice project, and concludes with lessons learned including some long term implications of this approach.

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