Resources for advocates: ChangeLab Solutions


As part of an ongoing series, CHAT is here to provide you with pre-existing resources that will arm you with the skills to become a health advocate. We are not endorsing the opinions or actions of these organizations; we are simply highlighting the resources they offer to the public.

Author: Joelle Zaslow

Are you familiar with ChangeLab Solutions? If you are a health advocate or have a health topic you are passionate about, their website is one to bookmark. ChangeLab Solutions describes itself as providing “community-based solutions for America’s most common and preventable diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and asthma. Our solutions promote the common good by making healthier choices easier for everyone.”

They offer resources and toolkits for health topics ranging from childhood obesity to tobacco control to healthy housing. Take a look at this fact sheet for enforcing wellness policies as a sample of what you can find on their website. The two page document provides concrete steps for parents and community advocates interested in ensuring their school or district is enforcing its wellness policy.

Each guide is straightforward and perfect for novice and experienced advocates alike. ChangeLab Solutions encourages incremental steps for creating change at the local level. They are a great resource to keep in mind as you set out to make a difference in your community.

YOU can be a health advocate!

Author: Connie Chon

The classroom is an inspiring place where you might discover an inkling to do more. You want to share ideas and brainstorm with like-minded peers about how to turn visions of a healthier community into actions and measurable outcomes. You want to improve the lives of those around you and make a difference.

Perhaps you have already got some experience under your belt from your undergraduate days, during which, let’s be honest, academics took up less of your time. Some days I feel like I’m drowning in schoolwork and hardly come up to breathe. Don’t get me wrong- in-class learning is meaningful, but the extracurricular activities I participate in outside of class has added another dimension and keeps me sane. In fact, grad school is the perfect time to combine other interests with your classwork. Personally, I have focused on opportunities to blend my studies with health advocacy, mainly intersecting media and health.

Not sure where to get started? There are tons of grad-student organizations at Tufts that support worthwhile causes. You can read more about on-campus student groups here:

Like teaching and cooking? Volunteer at Jumbo’s Kitchen and help children make healthy snacks. Working with kids and teaching them the importance of nutrition is not only fun but also worthwhile:

Do you enjoy writing and want to build your expertise in public health advocacy? Consider becoming a contributor to the Community Health Advocates at Tufts (CHAT) blog: contact for more information!

Interested in branching out beyond the Tufts community? You can learn more about community programs here:

Tufts and the Greater Boston area are teeming with opportunities that can align outside interests with health for graduate students. So go ahead, peruse and sample each opportunity that interests you by attending group meetings or volunteer events. It helps to bring a friend along, too. If none suit your tastes and you have a different goal in mind, why not set up your own student health organization? Spearheading your own student group is a great way to build your vision and goals from the ground up. It also builds leadership skills and can help navigate a potential career field.

Whatever opportunity you choose to pursue, make sure the health issue is something that you are passionate about and truly believe in. That’s what makes your contributions worthwhile and your efforts enjoyable.

Know what resources are available to you, pick up some friends who are as motivated and excited to make a difference, and engage with your community!

School champions: Nutritional advocacy at a national level

Author: Joelle Zaslow

Alliance for a Healthier Generation recently spotlighted school “champions” from across the country. These champions are school leaders, educators, parents, students, and food service professionals that have united to advocate for USDA’s school meal and snack regulations. Last month Alliance and Pew Charitable Trusts hosted 50 champions in Washington, D.C. to provide them with the opportunity to voice their opinion. These advocates provided evidence that implementing the regulations is feasible, has created positive change in the schools already meeting regulations, and kids enjoy the healthier options.

Without voices from the field, larger agencies (such as Pew and Alliance) that can advocate for change at a higher level would never hear these success stories. The champions that have joined forces to advocate for this cause serves as a true inspiration. Remember that success stories can be powerful advocacy tools that add a humanizing dimension to your position.

The Affordable Care Act: Exploring the tension between big business and advocacy

Author: Joelle Zaslow

I attended the JFK Library’s forum on Wednesday, January 21st entitled The Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Passage of the Affordable Care Act. The forum featured Steven Brill who discussed his new book, America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System. While not necessarily advocacy on a community level, I found the event fascinating and wanted to pass along a few points of particular interest.

Brill said what gets passed today is what big business (i.e. the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, medical device manufacturers, etc.) wants to get passed and what would benefit them. With the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries providing big dollars to issues concerning health, it’s no surprise that they carry considerable clout regarding what bills get passed. This is an important point and can translate to advocacy at any level. How can you advocate for your cause when big business plays such an influential role? Solving this dilemma is part of our role as advocates.

Another great point he made was that, in discussing his own health complications, he realized that we are not and cannot be consumers when we are patients in the hospital. We will do anything to be healthy, putting us at the mercy of insurers, which is why, Brill said, we need regulation. Remember that not everyone is in a position to advocate for their rights. Advocates can provide a voice for our communities.

You can view a video of the entire forum here.

Hillary Clinton encourages advocacy on issues for women and families

Author: Emily Boardman

On Thursday, December 4th, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a keynote address at the 10th annual Massachusetts Conference for Women at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. In her speech, she congratulated Massachusetts voters on becoming the third state to require paid sick leave.

“I think you have set a great model,” Clinton said. She added, “We need to get paid leave provisions on every state ballot by 2016 that we can possibly manage to do.” In addition to paid leave, she encouraged attendees to participate in groundswell advocacy for equal pay for women, affordable childcare, and access to credit and capital for women entrepreneurs, saying that these are issues that can be addressed on a societal level.

Guest Post: Elizabeth Langevin on S.246, An Act Relative to Healthy Kids

In the Spring of 2014, I took PH709, Advocacy for Public Health, with Sue Gallagher. The class had two projects: a legislative analysis for a current Massachusetts bill and a comprehensive advocacy strategy to move that bill forward.  I chose ‘An Act Relative to Healthy Kids,’ which intends to require daily minutes of physical activity in public schools as a way to enforce the already existing requirement for physical education in Massachusetts schools.

Executive Summary of the Legislative Analysis

S.246 Title: An Act Relative to Healthy Kids

Presented By: Senator Thomas McGee (D-Lynn)
Primarily Supported By: Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton), Senator William Brownsberger (D-Belmont), Senator Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury)
Other Supporters: Rep. Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham), Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton), Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), Rep. Thomas Conroy (D-Wayland), Rep. Robert Fennell (D-Lynn), Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), Sen. Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell), Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), Sen. James Eldridge (D-Acton), Rep. Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket), Rep. Kate Hogan (D-Stow), Sen. Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham), Rep. Thomas Stanley (D-Waltham)
Assigned Committee: Joint Committee on Education
Corresponding House Bill: H478: An Act Relative to Healthy Kids (Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez)

Stated Purpose: “to promote the physical well-being of the students”

Summary: Amends M.G.L. Ch. 71, Sec 3 by:

  1. Requiring that physical education be taught as a required subject in all grades
  2. Requiring at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity to students in K-8
  3. Asking that the Department develop and maintain a nutrition/physical activity database
  4. Evaluating current standards, practices, and the instruction of PE in K-12
  5. Establishing the Healthy Kids Award program to reward K-12 schools that create successful PE programs

Most Recent Action: S.246 was combined with S.242, H.364, H.389, and H.478 to form S.2047, which was sent to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means on March 17th, 2014; required daily minutes of physical activity, the development of the best practices database, and the Healthy Kids Award program were eliminated from the bill

Supporting Evidence: In 2010, 38% of male fourth grade students and 34% of female fourth grade students were overweight or obese in Massachusetts.  Studies show positive relationships between physical activity and academic achievement.  Research as shows its positive influence on attendance, participation and enthusiasm for academic subjects and motivation to learn, and reduced behavior and discipline problems.  This bill would allow students to complete half of their nationally recommended daily physical activity while in school.


  1. Support bills that enable required minutes of physical education and physical activity in schools
  2. Support the gathering of school-specific physical education and physical activity data
  3. Work with the Senate Committee on Ways and Means to insert some of what was lost back into S.2047
  4. Work with supporting organizations to keep advocating for this issue

Supporting Organizations: Alliance of Massachusetts YMCAs; Action for a Healthy Massachusetts; American Diabetes Association; American Heart Association; Boston Children’s Hospital; Boston Foundation; Boston Public Health Commission; Boston University Collect of Health; Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Weight Initiative; Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Massachusetts Health Council; Massachusetts Public Health Association; Worcester Food & Active Living Policy Council; Shrewsbury Public Schools

Opposition/Pushback: Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents; Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association; Massachusetts Teachers Association, Massachusetts Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance

My conversations with Allyson Perron, the Senior Director of Government Relations at the American Heart Association, and Pat Degon from the Shrewsbury Public School System demonstrated the importance of gaining support from principals and superintendents.  According to these individuals, principals and superintendents set the tone for the schools; without their support, it is difficult to move forward.  Knowing that, I created a comprehensive advocacy strategy to convince principals and superintendents that a minimum daily physical activity requirement will help their students overall.

Excerpts from the Strategy:

Key Messages
There are five key messages:

  • The current law requires physical education, and schools need to be held accountable to that law.
  • We need accurate data that evaluates the status quo of physical education and physical activity in Massachusetts schools.
  • Physical education is not the way it used to be, and kids like quality physical education programs.
  • Physical education helps kids learn better.
  • Physical education and physical activity in schools help kids establish healthy habits for life.

Advocacy Role
My advocacy role includes the following points:

  1. Principals drive the bus in each school.
  2. Advocacy is best done on a local level for this particular bill.
  3. The image of physical education must be updated.
  4. The bill needs accurate data about physical education and physical activity programs.
  5. Principals can benefit from hearing about the advantages of good physical education and physical activity programs in schools.

The ‘ASK’
Given the policy goals, the key messages, and the advocacy role, the ‘ask’ is as follows:

“Add a daily minute requirement back in to S.2047 so that schools are held accountable to the current law that already requires that physical education be taught in MA schools.”

Desired Results: Changing Opponents’ Opinions
The first desired result of this comprehensive advocacy strategy is to convince principals and superintendents to appreciate the value of physical education and physical activity in schools, despite their aforementioned concerns.  This would be accomplished by demonstrating the merit of physical education and physical activity by summarizing the research efforts, showing that some schools are actually implementing quality physical education programs despite the barriers and noted lack of time and funding, and changing the widespread and incorrect image of what physical education looks like in schools.  By accomplishing these objectives, principals might no longer oppose S.2047 and the daily minute requirement.  This would enable the bill to pass with the requirement, which would hold schools accountable to the current law that already requires physical education.  If that law were to be fully implemented, kids would do more physical activity in school, they would achieve greater academic success, and there would hopefully be lower rates of overweight/obesity, Type II Diabetes, and other chronic diseases among children in Massachusetts.

I thoroughly enjoyed both the legislative analysis and the comprehensive advocacy strategy development because they enabled me to see into the world of policy-making as it actually happens.  Relationships, reputations, politics, and perceptions all play in to how easy or difficult it is to pass a policy at any level.  According to the American Heart Association, it generally takes about seven years to pass a policy, though work on this particular issue has been going on for almost twice that amount of time.  The coalition of tireless advocates has yet to cease their efforts, hoping that one day, all MA public school students will do a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity per school day.

Advocacy 101



Author: Joelle Zaslow

If you have an issue you’re passionate about, there are simple steps you can take to advocate for that cause. Director of the MS Health Communication program here at Tufts, Sue Gallagher, suggests ten actions for advocacy:

  1. Join a coalition: There is power in numbers. Translate research for an advocacy group and let them do the work.
  2. Ask your legislator for their position on a bill: Bills need support by both parties to be introduced. Find out their position, tell them your position backed up with data and facts, and request them to sign on to the bill.
  3. Ask legislative staff to attend a briefing: Let legislators and their busy staff know why you are interested in a topic, how it effects constituents, and ask them to send someone to a briefing onsite.
  4. Write a letter to the editor for your newspaper: Letters to the editor allow readers to express their response to or debate published articles. They are typically short, easier to get published, and provide an opportunity to identify your research or project with issues in the news.
  5. Meet with the editors or editorial board of a newspaper: Editorial board meetings provide you the opportunity to give editorial staff in-depth information about your issue and introduce yourself as an expert who can be called upon. Request a meeting if your issue is topical, you want to push for specific action, or new information is available that could persuade the paper to take or change its position.
  6. Write an Op-Ed for your newspaper: It is a good idea to approach someone well known and ask them to co-author the op-ed.  Or let them just be the author. A good op-ed should be timely, creative, clearly written, newsworthy, and have a strong argument and fresh opinion. Make one compelling argument thoroughly, point by point with lots of detail. Remember this is not an academic piece with a data focus.  It should be provocative.
  7. Write a policy brief related to your research and disseminate it: Take your research to the next step and get it used by policy makers.
  8. Submit testimony as an expert: Use your expertise especially if you have done your research on an issue. Don’t wait to be asked to provide written or oral testimony.
  9. Invite a policy maker to a “meet and greet” at your organization: Firsthand anecdotes are more remembered than written material. Showcase your work onsite and provide the opportunity for publicity on both ends (yours and the policy makers.)
  10. Hold a press conference: Convene a meeting for the media to release your research, highlight an important action or call on a policy maker to take action. This is your chance to tell the story.

Above all else, being an advocate requires building relationships to instigate change. Get to know legislative and editorial staff, offer your expertise, and establish credibility before you need something from them.

We are Community Health Advocates at Tufts (CHAT). Our goal is to provide you with the tools, skills, and inspiration to help you become an advocate in your community.