Last October, the UCLA/Johnson & Johnson Health Care Institute (HCI) received a $4.1 million grant that will enable it to expand its health literacy training program to some of America’s most underserved children and families. HCI’s unique comprehensive approach to health empowerment strengthens management capacity in early childhood organizations and equips families with knowledge and skills to better manage their health needs and create a healthy home environment. The funding is part of a new five-year, $33.4 million grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to develop the National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness (NCECHW).
Established in 2001, the HCI (housed at UCLA Anderson in the Harold and Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation) has trained 120,000 Head Start families in 10 languages across 50 states. Its training methodology is used by over 300 Head Start grantees nationwide. HCI’s methodology has been tested for over 15 years and has consistently delivered significant outcomes in improving knowledge, changing behaviors and reducing unnecessary utilization of health care services.
“We believe that school readiness begins with health,” says Ariella Herman, research director and principal investigator of HCI and long-time faculty member of UCLA Anderson School of Management. “When the kids are healthy, they are in school, they are learning more and are more productive.”
The UCLA Anderson Blog recently asked Dr. Herman to reflect on the history of the program and offer some insight into the significance of its new grant.
Q: So, how did the program progress from the beginning?
When we started, our first topic was common childhood illnesses because we believe that parents with children aged zero to five are really interested in getting this kind of education. Every parent you know cares about their child, no matter where they come from. So we use a book called What to Do When Your Child Gets Sick, but we realized that it’s not about the book, it’s about making parents feel empowered in the decision making when it comes to their child’s health. For the first five years of HCI, we focused only on the topic of common childhood illnesses and saw how the Head Start programs applied the concepts to fit their community and families.
Q: How did the program grow?
What we realized over time is that when you’re able to empower families they want more. And while we were traveling around the country, we realized that there are additional critical health issues facing these families, such as poor oral health, which is a terrible epidemic in some communities. Another critical area is prenatal care because of the percentage of teenage pregnancy; and then there are obesity and diabetes. The powerful message was that we could use the same methodology no matter what health topic we addressed.
We’ve trained over 120,000 families in 50 states, 10 languages.
Q: Please tell us about the attention the programs have gotten.
Well, health literacy is an obstacle that you find around the world. Health literacy is not only the understanding of health information, it is understanding and taking action. There is an engagement, right? It’s not passive. I did have the opportunity to speak to the European Union Parliament and with the Department of Health and Services here in the Unites States about the problem.
Q: What is the implication of the newest grant?
We are a small team, but we are very dedicated and we have a reputation in the Head Start community. With this new grant, we will be able to increase our reach of families by 60,000 and we will be able to work with grantees for another five years. This is significant because my plan is to provide grantees with all the health models that we’ve developed by doing one topic the first year and a second topic the second year and so on. I believe we are going to have a most powerful impact because we are creating a culture of health.