Miami is like no other place in North America, or possibly the world. Famously welcoming, Miami-Dade County—also known as the “Gateway to the Americas"—has served as a haven for generations of refugees from Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua and other Latin American countries. The county’s population of 2.7 million encompasses 79 different cultures; 51 percent of Miami’s residents are foreign-born, more than any other city in the United States. This multicultural mecca also hosts 13 million visitors a year, all contributing to a vibrant stew of Latino music, international restaurants, regular street festivals, forests of high rises downtown and brightly-hued houses and streets in its many ethnic neighborhoods.
But under the high-energy surface, Miami is grappling with pressing social and health risks. About 1 in 5 of the county’s residents live below the federal poverty line, including nearly 1 in 3 children. A third of the population is uninsured, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and too many neighborhoods lack nearby access to affordable healthy food or safe parks.
A fractured response wouldn’t meet these challenges. Instead, in 2003 the Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade County was formed to address the county’s overall health. Determined from its creation to be as inclusive as possible, the consortium started with 160 partner organizations, focused on prevention and on the social factors that impact health. Successes over the past decade include putting healthy menus in place in the county’s public schools, which serve 340,000 children; installing fitness equipment that is free to all in 16 parks, with seven more teed up; reducing the homeless population; and offering routine HIV testing in all health facilities.
The consortium’s membership grew along with its mission. There are more than 900 members and 300 partners today, including government agencies, nonprofits, restaurants, churches, broadcasters, universities, insurers, schools and city planners.
“The strength of the consortium is that it is made up of members of the community from every sector,” says co-chair Alina Soto. “We have everyone from the state health department to Holly Zwerling, founder of the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida, who is a spokesperson for engaging fathers in the community. We have over 75 restaurants that now offer healthier menu items. It’s community, it’s grassroots and it’s individuals. And it’s a foundation for us to create a culture of health in this community.”
Because of this long-term focus on collaboration, inclusion and outreach, Miami-Dade County has been honored with the RWJF Culture of Health Prize.