An Exploration of the Health-Related Needs and Assets of Children Living in a Community Founded by Former Slaves

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Background: African American children living in rural, underserved communities are at increased risk for negative health outcomes. The history of Willow Hill, a rural Georgia community, can be traced back to slavery. The purpose of this study was to assess the health-related needs and assets of children in Willow Hill with the intent of informing the use of a school founded by former slaves to meet community health needs.

Methods: A concurrent mixed methods design was used to gather quantitative (i.e., secondary analysis, intercept interviews) and qualitative (i.e., focus groups, individual interviews) data. Descriptive statistics were calculated. Qualitative data were coded and major themes were identified and illustrative quotes selected.

Results: On a 10-point scale, lack of physical activity (M= 7.74), alcohol use (M= 7.66), and tobacco use (M=7.62) emerging as the top three health-related issues for youth in Willow Hill. In interviews, obesity was the number one self-reported health issue. Contributing factors included poor diet, physical inactivity, and lack of resources for physical activity and healthy food options. Culture, faith, and characteristics of youth (e.g., “good kids”) were noted as major assets.

Conclusion: Obesity was the number one health issue reported in this former slave community. Environmental factors such as lack of grocery stores containing healthy food options and lack of infrastructure to support physical activity emerged as major barriers to addressing obesity. Culture, faith, and characteristics of youth will serve as key resources in transforming a well-loved institution into a resource for prevention and education.


American Public Health Association Annual Meeting (APHA)


New Orleans, LA