Empowering communities and providing support are at the heart of a new partnership geared at improving the healthy lifestyle landscape in two southern West Virginia counties.
The Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy project grew out of a five-year contractual partnership between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the West Virginia University School of Public Health and West Virginia Prevention Research Center, WVU Extension Service, and WVU College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences. Aimed at creating local solutions to our state’s health-related challenges, the project focuses on communities in Clay and McDowell counties taking control of their own health.
Since its start last fall, WVU faculty and staff have been working with community organizations to identify local opportunities to increase access to physical activity and healthy food choices. In McDowell County, researchers thought high school students could help identify barriers through a project with West Virginia’s Health Sciences & Technology Academy (HSTA). The idea was so popular, HSTA teachers from across the state wanted to learn about the project, too.
This summer, a group of 14 teachers and more than 40 students gathered in the WVU Health Sciences Center to receive training led by the School of Public Health and College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences. Hearing from Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences Assistant Professor Christiaan Abildso and Department of Sport and Exercise Psychology Professor Sam Zizzi, teachers and students were introduced to a technique called photovoice.
“Early in the planning of the evaluation of Be Healthy, the team identified photovoice as a fun, meaningful way of engaging the community members in Clay and McDowell counties to do two things – make meaningful changes to improve access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity, and document the changes,” said Abildso.
“It also teaches these students a unique method of community-based research that can be applied to a multitude of topics,” he added.
Photovoice is a participatory research method that enables community members to do photo-based storytelling to identify barriers to public health and identify opportunities for improvement. As the members begin to see themes emerge, they determine a powerful photo and corresponding caption to describe each theme. The photos and captions are then presented like an art exhibit in the hopes of expanding community strengths and/or addressing opportunities for improvement. The technique can also be used in evaluation as a way of documenting the intended and unintended effects of a project.
“Photovoice is important because it seems to resonate in places such as West Virginia that carry on the oral traditions – where storytelling is an important way of sharing information,” said Abildso.
Thanks to the training session, students across the state will be able to utilize photovoice in their communities to advocate for change.
CONTACT: Jessica Wilmoth
WVU School of Public Health