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Healthy L.I.F.E (Literacy Initiative For Everyone)

Houston Public Library, TX
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Innovation Summary

The Houston Public Library’s (HPL) Healthy L.I.F.E (Literacy Initiative For Everyone) is an innovative health based library literacy initiative designed to educate low-income youth and their families about the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity, and to help improve their obesity/nutritional status through local, state and national partnerships.

Problem Statement

Recent reports from the State of Health in Houston/Harris County show youth and adult obesity to be the top two health concerns in the Houston area and greatest community challenges. Many of these families also have low literacy rates, which impedes their ability to access health and social service information that could lead to improvements in their health. In the Houston area, 66% of adults and 34% of youth are overweight or obese. Data on overweight and obesity rates reflect gender and racial/ethnic disparities; 74% of adult males (versus 57% of females) and 78 % of adult Hispanics (versus 72% and 63% of blacks and whites respectively) are overweight or obese. While youth of all ethnic groups are affected by overweight and obesity, Mexican-American boys (26.8%) and black girls (29.2%) are most likely to be obese. According to the Houston Center for Literacy, 1 in 5 Harris County residents lack basic literacy skills, which disproportionately impacts low income families and their ability to access basic information resources resulting in sustained cumulative social and economic disadvantages. These factors highlight the critical needs that exist in Houston and the significant opportunity presented to improve the health outcomes of children and families through the Healthy L.I.F.E. initiative.


The key innovation in this project was approaching a significant community health education issue through a family learning service model that leveraged the library’s role (position) as a trusted community resource, community convener, and strong contributor to the quality of life for the more than 2.2 million residents we serve. Chosen as the first public library to receive the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) Happy Healthy Family Habits grant funded by Humana Foundation, HPL implemented Healthy L.I.F.E. during the period of November 2013-March 2014 through a series of family focused events at strategically targeted library locations across the city. Each location serves significant populations of low-income families, boasts existing positive relationships with local schools and community groups, and experiences a high demand for family centered programming. Centered on themes such as “creating healthy lifestyles together” and “organizing the home for stress-free living and school success”, the events focused on intergenerational learning – parents and children learning together through interactive, literacy and technology infused educational activities ranging from Zumba to cooking demonstrations. Through the inclusion of a community resource fair, the events provided an opportunity for families to learn and take advantage of free essential community resources as they learned healthy habits as a result of the participation of community agencies. Thus, in addition to fun and engaging learning activities, families also benefited from access to a range of incentives and critical services such as books, fresh fruit and vegetables, health screenings and immunizations. Families were also able to sign up for a library card, enroll in Texas Benefits (i.e. TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, CHIP, etc.), as well as the Affordable Care Act program.


Libraries continue to be at the forefront of innovating and evolving in ways to bring value to communities and Healthy L.I.F.E. is no exception. Through the launch of Healthy L.I.F.E., individuals, public entities and private organizations came together in support of an important community priority and in doing so contributed valuable resources to achieve real impact. More than 50 community agencies provided invaluable health information, resources and services for over 3,100 family members, many of whom would not otherwise have access to this type of help. As a result, hundreds of families received free immunizations, health screenings, and signed up for essential services such as food stamps and health insurance. More than 50,000 pounds of fresh food was distributed to needy families from the Houston Food Bank, along with more than 3,000 nutrition and fitness related books and dvd’s provided by contributors such as the Texas State Comptrollers Reshaping Texas Initiative. Equally compelling is the fact that as a result of the implementation of Healthy L.I.F.E., critical healthcare and social services have been brought to these communities that didn’t exist. Perhaps most importantly, the program motivated families to commit to changing lifestyles and improving their own behaviors. Of those surveyed, 80% have committed to taking this action, which far exceeded our projections of 50%. Shaped by community interests, identities, input, innovations and involvement, Healthy L.I.F.E. served as a model approach for partnerships with libraries to meet public demand for access to information knowledge and services and advance critical community priorities.