The Black Belt Institute was founded in 2002 as a project of the School of Public Health's Center for Health Promotion, which recently merged with the Center for Community Health Resources and was renamed the Center for the Study of Community Health.
"The idea was to hold a symposium that focused on different health topics each year," says Max Michael, M.D., dean of the School of Public Health and director of the center. "The concept is really neat. Public-health professionals at the center work with community health advisors (CHAs) to identify health issues impacting their communities, such as obesity, which is this year's topic."
The CHAs then come together at the one-day Institute, which is held at the University of West Alabama (UWA), to create methods and strategies for tackling the issue within their respective communities. For instance, in targeting obesity the CHAs might stress the need for regular exercise, dietary changes: such as eliminating fried foods and sweets; and pointing out to parents that they have a big influence on what kids eat.
Michael says the gathering is an extraordinary experience. "UWA has been most kind in letting us have this venue, which is perfect, as it's central to where many CHAs live. Part of the measure of the success of the institute is that people come back, which says to me that the information, the discussion, and the dialogue are useful."