Healthy Heartlands

Healthy Heartlands

Connecting Community Organizing and Public Health Practice so Everyone Can Thrive

A program of PICO’s Center for Health Organizing; sponsored by ISAIAH


We are a regional network of public health professionals and faith-based community organizers, dedicated to collaborative efforts to improve health for children and families in low-income communities and communities of color. We believe the best way to promote long and healthy lives is to work together to change the upstream determinants of health like clean air, good food, a decent education and a safe neighborhood. We operate in eight states across the American Midwest and South.

Our History

private prisons rally 3 22 16Healthy Heartlands hosted the first ever gathering for health equity organizers in November 2010, in Oakland, California, with funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the California Endowment. Since then, the network of community-based organizations and public health professionals has grown to encompass eight states. Participants come together regularly to learn from each other, share best practices and advance an action agenda. We have been successful far beyond our hopes: the network now boasts an impressive collection of social change victories that have changed the lives of young children and their families for the better, and developed strategies for improving health equity.

A Unique Community of Practice

Social movements and public health have often worked together, but ours is the first effort to promote the intersection of public health professionals and community organizers. This alignment has proven to be a powerful one. Public health professionals bring institutional legitimacy, research skills and an expert perspective on community wellbeing. Community organizers can engage large communities in public action and wield the voice of moral outrage to demand change. Together, the two disciplines are able to make changes that neither can accomplish alone.

Racial Equity in Health

HealthyHeartlands KidsPublic health researchers have known for decades that health outcomes result less from access to doctors and medicine than from underlying social factors like family income, access to employment, neighborhood safety and education quality. But these public goods are not distributed equally, so low-income communities and communities of color have higher levels of childhood illness, obesity, chronic disease and premature death. We use a racial equity lens to identify policy changes that can improve social determinants of health and promote better health outcomes for those who are most disadvantaged.

A Broad Range of Issues

Healthy Heartlands members have collaborated to win changes that make sure public transit serves low-income communities, expand access to healthy food in urban neighborhoods, improve employment options for formerly incarcerated individuals, end expulsion and suspension of children of color, and promote free preschool for low-income kids. In the last year, we have focused intensively on the challenge of mass incarceration.

Healthy Heartlands organizations include:

To connect with Health Heartlands’ leaders in your area, contact Sue Budd at the PICO Center for Health Organizing, 651-789-8806 or



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