Fit City project tackles obesity in St. Louis

Annie Anderson
Engagement and Inclusion Manager
Public Insight Network

Editor’s note: We’ve been highlighting the work being done in partner newsrooms that have received Public Insight Network engagement funding. Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue our exploration of the work these partners are doing. Follow the progress of our coverage as we go.

In St. Louis, the St. Louis Beacon and Nine Network are working alongside other groups in town to spearhead a yearlong program focused on obesity and centered on the city’s north side.

nine-beacon_0Partners in the project plan to help people find ways to reduce the risks of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, that are associated with being overweight.

They plan to examine the problem of obesity in the St. Louis area by planning events — such as cooking lessons and others devoted to healthy eating education — that both serve their communities and gather insight into health problems that those communities face.

Linda Lockhart, PIN analyst at the St. Louis Beacon, answered a few of our questions about the project, which kicked off in early April.

What is PIN’s role in this project?

Linda Lockhart: From the start, I joined other Beacon and Nine Network staffers in planning sessions, paying special attention to how we could engage our target audience. I attended introductory meetings with ministers and a fitness expert, and I prepared a PIN query to solicit insight from the public.

Where did the idea for this project come from?

The idea for this topic is an outgrowth of a Beacon project in 2011, “Worlds Apart,” a 19-part series that looked at health disparities in St. Louis and how people are tackling the problems of obesity, lead poisoning, infant mortality and sexually transmitted diseases.

What communities or groups are you focused on engaging with? Why?

Our region ranks in the top 15 in the nation in overweight youth and obese adults. We know that racial and ethnic minorities and those who are indigent are at greatest risk. We are working particularly in north St. Louis, where the problems of obesity and its related health issues are highest. According to city data from 2009, about 32 percent of St. Louis residents live with income below the federal poverty level; about 65,000 of those residents are African-American. We know that the highest concentration of these residents live in the neighborhoods on which we are focusing.

We hope to build loyal audiences among these groups by offering information and recognition that does not come from other media sources. Additional readers and listeners are always welcome, but a healthier, better-informed segment of our community is the primary goal.

How are you planning to engage with your audience around obesity? What do you think they’ll find compelling about these stories?

Brian Byrd

“Health issues that you see in the African-American community with diabetes and heart disease are huge issues, a huge financial burden (requiring) medication and time off from work,” Brian Byrd, a fitness trainer, says.

Future events will be based on what we hear, according to Sally Altman, the Beacon’s health editor: “We’ll respond to needs identified by the community.” It is our hope that this approach will give us a deep understanding of the stubborn problem of obesity. So far, several PIN sources already informed the initial report on this project, including Brian Byrd.

What are you hoping the impact of this project will be?

We see it as our role to unearth insights, spread understanding and lay the groundwork for progress. We want St. Louisans to enjoy better health, and we hope Fit City can help. Along the way, we will report what we learn, to help everyone understand what’s at stake for the entire region and what might be done.

Our job is to report significant issues, trends and developments in our community. That’s what we’re doing in Fit City, which will focus on obesity and particularly on the disproportionate impact of this health problem on African-Americans on St. Louis’ north side.


The Public Insight Network awarded engagement funding to 17 public media newsrooms across the country. We’ll continue to track the work of those newsrooms and others in this Partner Notes blog series.



Annie Anderson Engagement and Inclusion Manager
Public Insight Network

Annie Anderson has the privilege of working with PIN partners around the country, providing training, coaching and support. In the last two years she has focused on diversifying and growing the Network. She specializes in community engagement opportunities and counseling.

While earning a master’s in public policy from the Humphrey School, she yearned for journalism by the people that could inform and respond to policy. Enter PIN: journalistic civic agency at its finest. She deeply believes that everyone is an expert and knows their own experience better than anyone else.