My Tufts colleague Professor Miriam Nelson is a distinguished nutritionist, a scientist who has been leading federally funded research studies on food and exercise for almost 20 years. She has written many books and articles and serves on official expert bodies, such as the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for the US Department of Agriculture.
Those are conventional measures of success and impact. But Mim Nelson knows that a whole range of factors beyond our individual choice affect our health: for instance, what food is available locally, whether the sidewalks are walkable, and how friendly local governments are to bicycles. These factors are tough to change, but people can address them collectively, and in doing so, they can gain friendships, skills, and confidence.
Instead of exhorting people to make better choices, Mim Nelson and colleagues are organizing communities for social change. We see that shift in some other fields as well–for example, the family therapy professor Bill Doherty has moved away from treating stress as a treatable personal problem; he now organizes suburban families to fight the causes of stress.
Mim has organized Change Clubs across America, mostly in rural communities and mostly composed of women. She and colleagues are now on a national tour called “StrongWomen Across America: Change Yourself, Change the World.” It is really an exercise in community-organizing, with a focus on nutrition and exercise and an emphasis on rural women. You can follow their progress through videos, photographs, and reflections on their tour blog page.