By Angelica Walker

Leslie Hoglund has a big goal: to revolutionize how community and government resources establish and redesign food security within communities.

She aims to leverage her selection for the 2021 Culture of Health Leaders program with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help advance that objective.

Hoglund, a clinical assistant professor in the School of Community and Environmental Health at Old Dominion University's College of Health Sciences, is testing a theoretical model for assessing communities with historical trauma, oppression and low life expectancy to eliminate food apartheid and improve health outcomes, focusing on a community in York County.

During this three-year program, Hoglund will examine Lackey, Virginia, an FDA-designated food desert, and adjacent neighborhoods. This year, she plans to conduct a household survey there to determine:

  • Food attitudes and behaviors.
  • Shopping preferences.
  • COVID-19 impact on food access.
  • Community needs.
  • Chronic diseases and health status.

"I spent most of 2020 developing relationships and building connections with stakeholders in the Lackey community. I've learned who the champions are, what has been tried and where opportunities for collaboration exist," Hoglund said. "I have also done a deep research dive into the historical timeline of the area to explain how 155 years of concentrated poverty, segregation, displacement and trauma have perpetuated a USDA food desert designation, low life expectancy and high chronic disease prevalence."

Data collection began in April through phone and virtual options. With the weather warming, Hoglund plans to walk through Lackey neighborhoods and interview residents on porches and sidewalks. The latter part of 2021 will be for data analysis and reporting. 2022 will focus on consensus-building on designing a food-secure community. In 2023, Hoglund will begin plan implementation and will have $35,000 to put into the community.

Hoglund's plan to disrupt Lackey's landscape won't be her first time acting as a change agent in a community. In 2012, she started the Lynchburg Area Food Council. The organization serves as a forum for food system issues, an advocate for coordination between sectors, a clearinghouse to develop and evaluate policy affecting health and nutrition, and the catalyst to launch and support programs as they address food access, insecurity, quality, and systems. The council also initiates and sponsors multiple projects that combine to build a healthy community and bring economic vitality to neighborhoods, especially those identified as food deserts.

"I would love to see a world where healthy food access, affordability, proximity and availability are not dependent on geography, demographics or the economy," Hoglund said. "There must be a mechanism and movement to stop the infiltration of predatory dollar stores as a quick fix for food-insecure communities. Equity in community nutrition and food sources is a priority."

If Hoglund's vision during the program is successful, she would like to take it to scale and grow food-secure communities all over Virginia. Follow Hoglund's journey and community impact on the Food Secure Community website.

The Culture of Health Leaders program is a leadership development opportunity for people who want to use their influence to advance health and equity. Hoglund is the fourth Virginian to be accepted to the program since it began in 2012.

"This program will make me into a stronger and more effective leader by challenging assumptions, gaining new resources and information, and learning about leading change management in scales of communities, states, and nations," she said.

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