Background: Childhood obesity is a systemic and complex, multilevel public health problem. Research approaches are needed that effectively engage communities in reversing environmental determinants of child obesity.
Objectives: This article discusses the Communities and Schools Together (CAST) Project and lessons learned about the project's community-based participatory research (CBPR) model.
Methods: A partnership of schools, community organizations, and researchers used multiple methods to examine environmental health risks for childhood obesity and conduct school-community health programs. Action work groups structured partner involvement for designing and implementing study phases.
Lessons learned: CBPR in child obesity prevention involves engaging multiple communities with overlapping yet divergent goals. Schools are naturally situated to participate in child obesity projects, but engagement of key personnel is essential for functional partnerships. Complex societal problems require CBPR approaches that can align diverse communities and necessitate significant coordination by researchers. CBPR can provide simultaneous health promotion across multiple communities in childhood obesity prevention initiatives. Support for emergent partner activities is an essential practice for maintaining community interest and involvement in multiyear CBPR projects.
Conclusion: Investigator-initiated CBPR partnerships can effectively organize and facilitate large, health-promoting partnerships involving multiple, diverse stakeholder communities. Lessons learned from CAST illustrate the synergy that can propel projects that are holistically linked to the agents of a community.