Violence Prevention Needs Political Willby Shaun Gray
Last week during a Congressional Briefing sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin, the Prevention Institute released a new paper titled “Addressing the Intersection: Preventing Violence and Promoting Healthy Eating and Active Living.” Until now, little research has been conducted on the impact of community violence on healthy eating and activity. Community members don’t walk to the grocery store if it means the risk of getting robbed on the way. They’d rather run to the corner store in order to purchase what food is available. Youth fail to play outside because of the gang members that hang out at their local park, so youth are encouraged to stay indoors where it’s safe. Businesses don’t want to open their shops in a community if they know the crime rate is high, so they take the grocery store to a community where they know their shoppers will be safe.
The Prevention Institute is working to address the need for violence prevention in communities so that adults as well as youth have access to neighborhood grocery stores and parks to play in, without the fear of being harmed. Violence is preventable – creating safe places for youth to go after school, such as a quality afterschool program, has been proven to decrease juvenile crime that tends to take place between the hours of 3-6 pm. Virginia Lee, Program Manager at the Prevention Institute, has watched communities take action nationwide: from Philadelphia where they’ve increased access to healthier foods by providing a farmers market for community members; to South Los Angeles where they’ve created a Mural Arts Program for youth to cover graffiti. Paul Lopez, Councilmember in Denver, CO District 3 says, “we are not going to arrest our way out of this situation” and strongly believes that in order to prevent violence, the Mayor and Police departments need to work hand in hand with the local health department to create programs that will yield a reduction in youth crime. His district has created community victory gardens, with the support of the public school system, to provide healthy meals to neighborhoods that ordinarily wouldn’t have access to grocery stores.
Violence creates barriers in communities. Without political will, violence will continue to be a factor in obesity - limiting community access to healthy food, and preventing families from eating healthy and being active. By creating safe places, promoting community development and fostering social cohesion, the Prevention Institute is fostering violence prevention for better public health. The Afterschool Alliance serves with the Prevention Institute on STRYVE, or Striving To Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere, a national initiative led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent youth violence before it starts.