Engaging Communities, Enhancing Good Health

David Hudson, MS'03

David Hudson, MS-Health Communication ’03

Long before Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move childhood obesity campaign made the papers, Shape Up Somerville (SUS) was working to build and sustain a healthy community. A strategy developed by the city of Somerville, SUS collaborates with multi-sector partners to increase access to healthy living for all, including low-resourced populations, by implementing policy, systems changes, and environmental/infrastructure changes. “Engaging the community, including those most vulnerable, is the most critical factor in sustaining effective change over time,” says David Hudson (’03), who until recently was director of SUS; Hudson is currently the community-based prevention manager for the State of Washington Department of Health.

As SUS Director, Hudson facilitated partnerships, managed funding initiatives, led strategic planning, and advocated for health equity, a major obstacle in the fight against chronic disease prevention. “Low-resources members of our community don't have equal access to the essentials needed for a healthy lifestyle—affordable housing, liveable wages, reliable transportation, nutritious food/physical activity, and disposable time and income,” he says.The driving principle for Hudson at SUS was effecting positive behavior change—skills he learned during his time at Tufts. “I took many courses that emphasized how to effectively communicate and collaborate with diverse individuals, organizations, and communities. At SUS, I used that knowledge every day,” he says.

Hudson also put his health literacy training to work. Being able to engage diverse populations about healthy eating, physical activity, and sustaining healthy communities is a critical component in achieving effective results. Hudson says, “It’s important to ask: ‘Who is our audience? What can we learn from them? Where do they get their information and from whom? How do cultural differences affect how we work with them? How do we engage them?’”

With a background in marketing, Hudson already knew these essential “audience” questions, but his degree from Tufts taught him to apply them in a socially conscious way. “Being able to make a difference through effective and engaging communication is really satisfying,” he says. And clearly, SUS is making an impact. Recent studies from the organization demonstrate that sustainable, multi-level, community-based models can help reduce body mass index (BMI) and prevent weight gain in children. “At Tufts I learned all about community engagement. At Shape Up Somerville, I put my degree to work every day,” he says.