Contra Costa County child advocates, teachers, nonprofit groups, medical professionals and community members gathered at the Richmond Civic Center Auditorium on Wednesday and Thursday to talk about the status of children’s health at the state and county levels.
The fourth annual California Summit on Children and Youth is “an annual opportunity for the best minds in the country to come to Richmond, meet with people who are active in youth issues, and really talk about and learn from each other the best practices, policy work and how to finance projects,” said Jim Becker, vice president of community investments at Richmond Community Foundation, the group that organized the event.
This year’s summit focused particularly on obesity and asthma, both major health concerns in Richmond and Contra Costa County. The two issues are often linked, said the summit’s keynote speaker David J. Durand, a neonatologist at Children’s Hospital in Oakland. “There’s this tight correlation that says asthma and obesity travel together statistically,” he said.
Studies show that in Contra Costa County, 22 percent of children under 17 have been diagnosed with asthma, the fourth-highest rate in the state. Thirty-three percent of children in the county and 51 percent in Richmond are overweight or obese, according to a 2010 survey of public school students.
Recent measures like Richmond’s soda tax ballot measure, which was defeated in the November election, have highlighted the city’s desire to lower its child obesity rate. This week’s event was yet another forum for discussing solutions to this issue.
Booths for local groups like the Richmond Native Wellness Center and Catholic Charities of the East Bay lined the auditorium. Tables covered with pamphlets, magnets and buttons presented some of the more common solutions to obesity and asthma, like healthy eating and drinking.
Other resources were less intuitive, like instructions for proper use of a prescribed inhaler.
“It sounds like a simple thing, but I have gone to see patients that were using their inhalers upside down and kept going back and getting new prescriptions,” said Aglaia Panos of Pharmacy Planning Services, a public health education group.
Whether it was advice for parents or educational resources for young people, the shared sentiment among the displays was early intervention: preventing adverse health and diseases in adulthood by promoting healthy habits in childhood.
The summit was also a place to discuss finances for new initiatives by organizations working to improve the health of children in the county. It focused largely on social impact bonds—venture capital investments in innovative programs so that government funding and taxpayer money are not used to invest in high-risk programs until those programs are proven effective.
The new approach has already been initiated in other parts of the country: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg financed a social bond to reduce recidivism and in Milwaukee a bond has been applied to reduce the unemployment rate in that city, Becker said.
Contra Costa County is looking to cash in on the new approach, but Becker said it first has some questions. “How can we practically use something like that to effect change in children’s health?” he said.
Though community members and local advocates had the future of children’s health on their minds, the summit was also a chance to share resources and discuss effective solutions for preventing the spread of childhood obesity and asthma in the county.
And the fact that the present and future of children’s health is being discussed in Richmond is perfect, Jim Becker said, because of the city’s emergence as a home for revolutionary attitudes and ideas.
“Richmond is a hub of innovation these days, and that’s why we want to bring events like this to the city,” he said.
Editors note: This article originally listed the event host organization as the Richmond Community Partnership. That has been corrected to the group’s proper name: the Richmond Community Foundation.