Skip to main content
Previous Blog Home Next

Using Collective Impact in a Public Health Context: Introduction 

In today’s 1st post of our 4-blog series, we introduce seven initiatives that are using elements of collective impact to address childhood obesity and other public health crises, with promising results.

From Maine to Iowa to California, collective impact is helping to address childhood obesity by facilitating changes in the built environment, regional food systems, school nutrition and physical activity policies, and messaging around nutrition and physical activity, to name but a few intervention strategies.

The city of Somerville, MA, a suburb of Boston, was one of the first communities in the United States to demonstrate that a community-wide, systems-oriented approach to obesity prevention-- Shape Up Somerville-- could impact children’s weight. Overweight and obesity were reduced among school-aged children as a result of this intervention, leading Shape Up Somerville to become a national model for childhood obesity prevention.The program, which impacts all populations in the city including those that live, work, play and learn in Somerville, began as a community-based participatory research project and evolved over time into a city-led initiative that engages multi-sector partners and embraces elements of collective impact.

Shape Up Somerville’s partners include healthcare, academia, education, culturally-based organizations, government agencies, nonprofits, the business sector, and voluntary agencies both within the city and beyond.  These partners have collaborated successfully over the past decade in pursuit of Shape Up Somerville’s mission to increase daily physical activity and healthy eating through programming, physical infrastructure improvements, and policy work. All of the partners bring different skill sets which broaden the reach of the initiative and allow it to impact those populations most in need.

In this four-part blog series, we profile Shape Up Somerville and six other initiatives that are using elements of collective impact to address childhood obesity and other public health crises, with promising results:

  • Let’s Go! Maine works throughout the state to increase physical activity and healthy eating for children from birth to 18 through policy and environmental change.
  • LiveWell Colorado is a nonprofit organization committed to reducing obesity in Colorado by promoting healthy eating and active living.
  • The San Diego Childhood Obesity Initiative is a public/private partnership whose mission is to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in San Diego County by creating healthy environments for all children and families through advocacy, education, policy development, and environmental change.
  • The Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative works to make their region a place where every day, all people have access to healthy, locally grown foods and abundant opportunities for physical activity in the places where they live, learn, work and play. 
  • The Minnesota Diabetes Program aims to make Minnesota the state with lowest incidence and lowest rate of growth for type 2 diabetes in country.
  • The Communities that Care Coalition brings together youth, parents, schools, community agencies, and local governments to promote the health and well-being of young people in Western Massachusetts.

We invite you to keep reading over the coming weeks to learn more about how the leaders of these initiatives are using elements of the collective impact approach, and for lessons learned for others interested in taking a collective impact approach to address childhood obesity, nutrition, physical activity, and other public health concerns.

What initiatives have you seen that use elements of collective impact to address public health issues? We’d love to hear from you!


Vanessa Lynskey is a Master of Public Health Candidate in the Public Health and Professional Degree Program at the Tufts University School of Medicine.

Emily Malenfant

Former Chief Administrative Officer, FSG

Amber Johnson Binkley

Former Associate Director

Vanessa Lynskey