Sisters Together: Move More, Eat Better is a health awareness program that encourages black women 18 years and older to maintain a healthy weight by being more physically active and eating healthy foods.
It is a project of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), through the Weight-control Information Network (WIN). Sisters Together programs are run locally by dedicated individuals or groups. Anyone who sees a need in his or her community and wants to help can start a Sisters Together program.
This guide and the items in the Resources section can help you promote the benefits of regular physical activity and healthy eating in your community. The materials are based on a pilot program of Sisters Together: Move More, Eat Better that took place in Boston from 1994 to 1998. These materials are updated regularly to keep them current and make them helpful for your program.
Overweight and obesity are major health problems for blacks. Recent Government statistics show that more than 80 percent of U.S. black women age 20 and older are overweight or obese. Nearly 60 percent of black women are obese. Research shows that extra pounds place strain on the body and may contribute to health problems, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Many factors can make it difficult for black women to move more and eat better. Barriers include few stores that sell fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food options; lack of money; and limited places to exercise. These factors need to be taken into account when creating a program that promotes healthy eating and regular physical activity.
To address overweight and obesity among black women, WIN and several partners developed Sisters Together as a pilot program. WIN's partners included Harvard University, the New England Medical Center, and Tufts University. The goal of the program was to increase physical activity and healthful eating among young black women ages 18 to 35 living in three communities in Boston, MA. Black women in these neighborhoods and experts in obesity helped develop the program. Sisters Together then formed partnerships with health centers, local media, recreation centers, and other groups to start new programs.
Building on the success of the pilot program, WIN designed several resources, including this guide, to support the Sisters Together programs across the nation in getting out the "move more, eat better" message. Over the years, groups across the country have used these resources to start and run their own Sisters Together programs.
Using This Guide
If you would like to start a Sisters Together program, this guide is for you. This guide will help you create a health awareness effort where you live that encourages black women to move more and eat better. Anyone can make positive changes. Whether you are a business owner, hair stylist, health professional, homemaker, retired person, or student, you can start a Sisters Together program.
The guide outlines six steps to help you plan your program and gives practical examples of activities from Sisters Together programs.
The six steps are:
The Resources section offers additional materials to help you plan and promote your program. The Resources section offers forms, logos, sample letters, and tip sheets that you can download and customize to print or share online with your group members. These resources were designed for black women ages 18 and older but can be adapted for other groups. As you read the guide, you will also see green boxes that outline ideas for starting up a small program when you don't have much money or many people to help out.
Feel free to contact WIN for help at any time while you develop or run your program. Our contact details appear at the bottom of this page.
Creating Your Program
Step 1: Getting Started
Learn about your community. Who do you want to reach?
Tailor your program based on your local needs. For example, you may find that mature black women in your neighborhood would benefit the most from a Sisters Together program. This program is flexible enough to target black women or other groups of all ages, races, and communities. In fact, there are Sisters Together programs that include men. Let your community's needs drive how you shape your program.
Starting smallThis guide is based on the Sisters Together: Move More, Eat Better pilot program, conducted in Boston by several partners. Over the years, many women have told WIN they would like to start a Sisters Together program, but they lacked the resources to do all the activities described in the guide. Activities like planning a community event may be too much for a program that is just starting out.
Here are some tips for starting small:
- Feel free to adapt the activities and resources in the guide to meet your needs.
- Make your program as big or small as you want. You can start with just a friend or two, a couple of interested people from your place of worship, fellow stylists, coworkers, or others in your neighborhood.
- Start small by forming a walking group with friends and getting together to share or swap healthy recipes.
- Check out the items in the Program Resources section under Resources at the top of this page.
Gathering Background Information
Research shows that not having access to healthy foods and places to exercise may be linked with other financial, health, and social issues. When you develop your program's messages and events, think about how the community as a whole may affect peoples' attitudes and choices related to health. Then, decide on the area(s) of greatest need. These questions may help you:
- What are the attitudes, beliefs, and overall knowledge of black women in your area about healthy eating and physical activity?
- What do black women where you live already know about overweight and obesity and how being overweight or obese increases the chances of getting diabetes and heart disease?
- What types of health services and resources exist in your area?
- What types of activities are popular among black women where you live (for example, bike riding, jumping rope, walking)?
- Where can black women find healthy foods nearby?
- Who do people look up to in your area?
Know Your Community
Learn more about the people you would like to help. Gather information on age, gender, income level, race, ethnic background, language, religion, education, what kinds of food they eat, family size, and what people do for fun. You can collect this information informally by talking to local leaders and residents about themselves and their neighbors. For more formal information, you can go to the website of the U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov) .
Get Community Input
You can get input from local people about their attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge related to physical activity and healthy eating in a number of ways. You can chat with people in person, by phone, or by email, mail, or text message. You can also host low-key meetings in your home, workplace, place of worship, local salons, and other nearby locations. Another way to learn more about people in your area is to attend meetings of other neighborhood groups.
Assessing Your Community's Needs
When designing a Sisters Together program, ask yourself these questions: Does your community already have programs for healthy eating and physical activity in place? What type of program would be most appealing to local women? For example, would a program be most effective if based in a community center, neighborhood group, or place of worship? Deciding what resources are on hand and setting your program goals will help shape your plan.
Local leaders can be a helpful resource for learning more about your community. Find leaders who are trusted and well respected. Ask for their input on the best ways to reach your audience. In addition, local leaders may be able to help spread the word about your program and help you locate extra resources. Black business owners, health care providers, and religious leaders may also provide helpful feedback.
Focusing Your Efforts
Once you have a clear grasp of your community's needs, you can begin focusing your efforts. You can use the information, community input, and local leaders' feedback to figure out the best place to hold your program. For example, you may decide to base your program in a community center, place of worship, or other neighborhood location.
Sharing healthy eating tipsHere are some ideas for resources that will help kick off sessions focused on healthy eating:
- Contact the Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) of your county to see if it has outreach staff who can conduct a free session on healthy eating.
- Visit the "Food and Nutrition" section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) website for tips on a number of topics related to healthy food, meal planning, and shopping. See http://www.usda.gov and http://www.nutrition.gov .
A community center can be a great resource when starting a Sisters Together program. Programs work best at community centers when the need for information in the community is great and when the effort will most likely draw a steady following. Recreation centers, such as the YWCA or the YMCA, will often lend you their space for group meetings or exercise classes.
Find out about local groups and public programs that offer food assistance and education on healthy eating. Some of these programs are the Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC), Head Start, and the Food Stamp Program. Check out local health centers, places of worship, social services, and sororities to learn about what they offer. These groups may serve as valuable resources when you start your program.
Places of Worship
Working with places of worship can be a good way to increase health awareness among blacks, since many religions have a longtime tradition of supporting community service. Before beginning the program, talk with the religious leaders to gain their support and establish credibility, open contact, and trust.
Ask for a meeting to hand out information to members, become active in events, or volunteer in programs hosted by the place of worship. You may be able to contact the director of the place of worship for ways to work together, such as being active in health fairs or using space for meetings at the site.
Is there a need for a Sisters Together program where you live? If so, you may find that starting a program in your area may be the best option for you. These types of small, local programs can be more personal and usually do not need many resources to start up.
Sisters SpotlightA health fair or expo is a great way to begin spreading your message. As an early activity, one Sisters Together program held a health fair with people cooking healthy foods; line dancing; and offering exercise sessions, massage, and tai chi. The program has also included a walking group, recipe-testing events, and participation in community events with other organizations.
Here are some ideas:
- Find out if there is a local school with a track that you could use for walking groups and other exercise events.
- Check out local shopping malls that may be good places for indoor walking, especially in bad weather.
- See if there is a local museum nearby with free or reduced admission. If so, get a schedule of exhibits or tours so you can plan a walking trip. Many museums now offer "hands-on" areas that make it easy to bring children along.
- Try holding your Sisters Together meetings and/or events in places like beauty salons, dance studios, day care centers, gyms, health centers, laundromats, markets, parks, playgrounds, and restaurants.
- Take turns with members in your group hosting Sisters Together events in your homes.
Step 2: Identifying Community Resources
Find out how your community can help. What resources and partners can you turn to?
Partnering with individuals and groups in your community is a great way to find new members, get members to commit their time and resources, and promote your program. To find out what others are doing locally to promote healthy eating and physical activity, take note of posters and ads that convey healthy messages.
Along with other organizations and individuals already identified in this guide, possible partners could include these:
- beauty salons
- food markets and grocery stores
- local and national businesses (for donations or sponsorship to encourage people to participate, such as calendars, coupons, food items that are boxed or canned, or gift certificates)
- media outlets (such as daily newspapers, local and national magazines, radio and TV stations, and websites)
- neighborhood associations and housing authorities
You should also consider other local resources, such as biking trails, existing parks, hiking trails, soccer fields, and walking paths that could be used for Sisters Together activities.
Finding partnersNot sure where to start? Here are some ideas:
- Think about other people and groups in your area that share common values and interests with Sisters Together. These could be community centers, health care providers, local places of worship, salon owners, schools, and women's groups.
- Create a small, core group of people who want to work with you to get the program started. Together, think about possible activities, participants, and partners.
- Consider planning a kickoff meeting to introduce the program to others in the community.
Resources in this guide you can use
Begin by creating a list of individuals and groups most likely to support your program. Choose individuals and groups that do the following:
- Address women's issues and concerns.
- Are interested in and committed to improving the health of black women.
- Can contribute in important ways.
- Have access to and credibility with black women in your community.
- Use messages that are similar to those of the Sisters Together program.
Approaching Potential Partners
Once you have ranked the people or groups you would like to approach, think about how you would like them to support your Sisters Together program. Match your program needs with their interests and develop a list of key selling points that clearly describe "what's in it for them."
The following steps may help you enlist a partner:
- Call, email, or write your contact and explain that you would like to discuss a potential partnership opportunity that might be of interest to him or her. Describe the goals and potential benefits of your program. Request a meeting to discuss the possibility further.
- Have a "pitch" or notes ready when you approach possible partners. You can start your talk with information about the health benefits of moving more and eating better and the health risks of being overweight and inactive. See WIN's fact sheet Do You Know Some of the Health Risks of Being Overweight? PDF [1,338 Kb]
- Share a copy of the Sisters Together fact sheet included in this guide. You can also use the Sisters Together logo for the letters you send.
- Be prepared to offer something in return, such as attracting media attention, displaying the partner's logo, or presenting awards.
- Ask for a commitment, but be aware that your potential partner will probably need time to review your request.
After your first meeting, follow up quickly with a thank you by email or letter that states your interest again in being partners. Prompt your contact to get in touch with you if there are any questions. Once you have agreed to partner, do the following:
- Try to assign one person in your Sisters Together group as the main contact for that partner.
- Consider putting your agreement in writing (perhaps a letter signed by you and the partner that describes the purpose of the partnership and what each partner will do).
- Update your partner regularly. Use the partner's feedback to refine your program. This advice can help you attract new members and help you decide where to promote your events.
- Do not forget to say thank you with letters, certificates, or public recognition of the individual's or group's contribution.
Step 3: Setting Your Goals
Plan your goals. What do you want to achieve with your program?
Creating a few specific goals will help you become more organized and plan for the future. Tracking your progress in meeting your goals can help you improve your program over time and increase the program's impact.
Try to select realistic goals. Some examples of goals that you can adapt for your program are these:
- By [DATE], hold a program kickoff meeting in the community.
- By [DATE], have a formal weekly walking program in place.
- By [DATE], conduct monthly meetings on healthy eating.
- By [DATE], have a program Facebook page started.
- By [DATE], have [NUMBER] fans of the program's Facebook page.
Feel free to adapt these goals to meet your local needs—or come up with new ones! For instance, if another group in your community is already promoting physical activity, you could focus on increasing awareness about the benefits of healthy eating, or you could partner with this group.
You may find that you need to revise your goals after you have launched your Sisters Together program. The needs of your community may change over time, and success is partly about being able to adjust and respond to your local needs.
Step 4: Spreading the Word about Sisters Together
Spread the word about Sisters Together. How can you get others involved?
Promoting the program with limited resourcesIf you are just starting out and don't have many resources for outreach activities, think about simple, low-cost ways to promote the program in your community. Here are some ideas:
- Focus on local media, like neighborhood newsletters and the local newspaper, radio station, and TV station. Find out who covers community news, especially health-related news. Call or email to introduce yourself and the program.
- Use the Internet. It can be a low-cost (even free) way to promote your program. Start a page on Facebook or other websites where you are a member. You can also "chat" or text about your program to get the word out.
- Call nearby places of worship to see if they will help out by announcing your program at services or putting a notice in their newsletter or bulletin or on their website.
Resources in this guide you can use
Here are some ways to spread the word about your Sisters Together program.
Considering Media Sources
You can use the following media to publicize your program or healthy tips for your community:
National and Local Newspapers or Magazines (Online and Print; Monthly, Weekly, and Daily)
- calendar of events
- food sections
- health sections
- public affairs listings
- regular columns or ads
National and Local TV and Radio Stations
- announcements of local events
- health or food shows
Online Media (Social Media)
Creating a List of Resource Groups for Spreading the Word
The following tips can help you create a list of media outlets or other resource groups that reach black women:
- Check with community partners and members to see if they have any direct contact or relationships with leaders in the community, local reporters or bloggers, media outlets (whether print or online), places of worship, and salon or other business owners that they can share with you. It is best if the information you gather is less than 6 months old. If it is older, you may need to call the contacts and update their information.
- If you do not have access to an existing list, begin by looking in your local phone book or doing online searches to identify media outlets and other resources for spreading the word—such as community centers, grocery stores, hair salons, and places of worship.
- Create a list or folder that includes the name, title, phone and fax numbers, and street and email addresses of contacts who handle health and wellness issues for these resources so you can send materials directly to them. Bloggers or reporters (online or print) who cover general local news are also useful contacts.
Once you have created your list, you can make it even more useful by doing these steps:
- Include notes about deadlines or events that are related to your efforts and the best method and time for notifying your contacts.
- Research the media outlets and other groups on your list. Focus on resources that reach black women first, and then branch out to various general interest groups.
Sisters SpotlightSisters Together activities at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University have included monthly meetings on campuses and in churches about fitness and healthy eating. Other activities have included healthy cooking events, a Sisters Together cookbook, and events in honor of national health days or months.
Using your new list, send news and updates about Sisters Together meetings and events or offer short tips on physical activity and healthy eating. You might want to adapt the sample outreach letter (Resource 11) for community groups, local businesses, or places of worship to let them know about your program. Ask your contacts to cover or get involved with a special event, such as a walk or food festival. This not only helps to promote your program, but also helps to inform others about issues that the program addresses. When you update the people on your resource list about your events or program, remember to do the following:
- Send materials via email, fax, mail, Facebook, or Twitter.
- Add photographs of your group (with their permission) or other related items to increase interest.
- Allow several days for your contacts to receive and review them.
- Make a follow-up phone call to the contacts or send a follow-up email. That way, you can check that they have received the materials, answer any questions, and restate the value of the program.
- Thank your contacts with a note through mail or email for every announcement, notice, or story that occurs.
Preparing Information for Social Media
Many radio stations and newspapers now have accounts on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Remember to include all the details—the who, what, when, where, and why. When using Twitter, keep in mind that postings, or tweets, should sum up the facts in 140 characters or fewer. You may want to include a link to more information. You may also attach a photograph of a flyer, members (with their permission), or a program exhibit.
Preparing a Program Kit
For outreach efforts, you may want to prepare a simple program kit that includes information about your Sisters Together program and any activities you have planned.
Consider including these items in your kit (see the Resources section for a sample of the starred item):
- a Sisters Together fact sheet that describes your program and offers ways to get more information (no more than two pages)*
- any Sisters Together flyer that you have created for the specific event or program that you are currently wanting to highlight
- photographs of your Sisters Together events or members (with their permission)
- some Sisters Together brochures (available for download at http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/sisters/index.htm)
- list of upcoming program activities
- contact name, email, and phone number
You do not need fancy packaging for your kit. You can place the items in a two-pocket folder and customize it with labels showing the Sisters Together logo included in the Resources section of this guide. You could also create your own logo. Make sure you include a place for your contact information.
Remember, too, that many of these items can be emailed or posted online. If you are contacting a blogger, online media outlet, place of worship, or other group through electronic means, you may attach electronic files or provide hyperlinks to your group's Facebook page, program materials, website, or other Sisters Together outreach materials.
Do not forget to update the kit yearly or whenever major changes occur in your Sisters Together program.
Contacting Your Resources
When you contact the resources you have compiled for your outreach efforts, stress the value of supporting black women in moving more and eating better. Explain that many black women have health problems linked to weight, like diabetes and heart disease. Note also the partners involved in Sisters Together to let your resources know how widespread your program is. Be sure to leave your card or name and phone number.
Once you begin contacting some groups or media outlets, they may ask to speak with you informally or to have an interview with you. Interviews give you a chance to talk about your activities and recruit members. These tips may be useful:
- Prepare well for an interview.
- Organize key message points and practice answering questions using the materials in your program kit.
- Be prepared to make simple, direct statements that are easy to understand. Get back to interviewers promptly with any promised information.
- Send a note thanking interviewers for the opportunity to talk about the Sisters Together program.
When planning, launching, or hosting an event, send information to your resources 3 to 4 days before the event. Make follow-up calls to see if reporters or others need more information, and encourage them to attend.
Finally, be sure to track media coverage or any response you have based on your requests or outreach efforts. Do not forget to let your contacts know about your Sisters Together program's successes. Community groups, online media sources, places of worship, and print media can help you promote your program and ideas. By getting the word out about successful events, you may be able to make new partners as well as further promote Sisters Together messages.
Step 5: Planning Activities
Decide on your core activities and events. What is best for your participants and message?
Activities and events can create interest and increase awareness of your Sisters Together program. They can also establish an identity and highlight program messages.
Think about activities that support your program's objectives. For example, a wellness walk or bike ride may fit within your program goals better than hosting a yard sale, as physical activity is tied to your program's purpose to promote "moving more."
When planning activities, choose those that do the following:
- Address the current needs and interests of black women in your community by offering doable tips.
- Fit in with your program goals—to build awareness of the benefits of healthy eating and increased physical activity and to provide information that can lead to healthy lifestyle changes.
- Tie in with your partners' activities and meet with your partners' approval.
- Don't need more effort, money, or time than you and your partners can contribute.
Planning your first community eventOnce your program is up and running, an event across the community can be a great way to share information on healthy living and get others involved. Here are some ideas:
- Host a health fair featuring people cooking healthy foods and doing different types of dance and exercise.
- Have a recipe exchange at your salon, place of worship, or workplace. The USDA website "Healthy Eating on a Budget" has healthy recipes, tips about saving money at the grocery store while making healthy food and beverage choices, and advice about how to prepare low-cost healthy meals http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ budget/index.html .
Resources in this guide you can use
When planning activities, consider having discussions, holding meeting sessions, or providing tips to address barriers to healthy eating and physical activity. Some of these barriers—and tips to address them—are outlined in Resource 5: Barriers to Physical Activity and Healthy Eating. You can make copies of this tip sheet, list some of these items on a blackboard, or simply offer them up for discussion in a group setting.
Creating Promotional Materials
People love souvenirs. Consider creating Sisters Together giveaway items for your program members and sponsors. These items can help create interest in your program and give it exposure. Some popular giveaway items include these:
One Sisters Together program made low-cost, hand-held fans featuring its program members. The program handed out the fans to local places of worship to help members stay cool in the summer. If your program has an exhibit booth, a poster or banner can provide added visibility. It can also make your booth easy to find. Consider creating a portable poster or banner to display at all of your Sisters Together program events.
Try to keep participants and partners updated on your Sisters Together program. Keep a list of the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of people who have attended your events. Call them or send them a note, text, or email to update them on future activities. An easy way to build up your mailing list is to bring a sign-up sheet to all of your events.
Planning a Kickoff Event
A great way to create excitement for your Sisters Together program is to plan a kickoff event. You can work with your partners to plan an event that will increase awareness of your Sisters Together program and its messages among the black women in your community. Some successful Sisters Together events have included walking groups, dance classes, aerobics classes, and cooking sessions, as well as creating a fitness calendar.
You can promote your kickoff event by doing one or more of the following:
- Attend other local festivals and special events. Other venues are a great place to distribute your Sisters Together materials and create buzz about your pending event.
- Distribute flyers where you live and work. You can post them on bulletin boards at grocery stores or places of worship, give them out at meetings, or hand them out through partner groups.
- Email, text, or tweet interested members with details of the event. Ask them to send the news on to their friends.
- Invite the media.
- Put the event on your personal or program Facebook page.
Step 6: Measuring Your Success
Track your progress. How can you make your program even better?
Tracking progress as you start outHere are some things you can count or record to help you track your progress:
- Did you hold a kickoff meeting? How many people attended?
- How many community partners have joined the program?
- Have you held your first walking event? How many people attended? How far did you walk?
- Have you set up your contacts list? How many members do you have?
- How many brochures have you handed out?
- How many people have joined your program's Facebook page, if you have one?
Resources in this guide you can use
Tracking your progress can help you identify minor problems and make changes before major ones develop. It can also help you find more effective ways to publicize your Sisters Together activities and identify materials that best serve your community. Monitoring your success will also help you find out what activities to repeat and which ones to quit doing.
Tracking Your Sisters Together Materials
When you hand out flyers or door prizes, keep track of the place, date, type of items, and number of items that you give away. This will help you plan future Sisters Together events. For example, if you gave away all of your fact sheets at a weekend event and only a few at a weekday event, that might tell you that weekends are a better time to hand out materials.
Asking for Input from Participants and Partners
Program participants and partners can give helpful input on your Sisters Together program. Ask for their comments on your activities, events, and program and ask about how they were involved in the program. Some questions you may want to ask include these:
- What is working well?
- Which areas do we need to improve?
- How can we improve our program?
- What would you like the program to do next?
Ask members about any changes they have made in their lives since starting the program. Write down any comments they are willing to share with the group, so you can all discuss the changes later. To have a better idea of changes that take place over time, you can also ask members to do the following:
- Track how often they do physical activity each week, and keep a weekly group count of the number of minutes/hours to compare over time.
- Track how many fruits or vegetables they eat each day.
Sisters SpotlightThe Lexington-Fayette County Health Department in Lexington, KY, has been operating Sisters Together programs for many years. After starting up a popular initial program for women, the Department went on to start a Brothers Together program. Now, both programs are combined to form the Sisters and Brothers Together Weight Loss Challenge. A huge success in Kentucky, the program's more than 800 participants are active in healthy eating and aerobics classes. Child care and transportation support help address barriers that participants may have to joining the sessions.
A feedback form is a great way to find out what people think of your Sisters Together program events. You can use the information you gather to plan future activities. It is best to keep feedback forms simple and to the point. Try to include only multiple-choice questions. A sample feedback form is included in the Resources section of this guide.
Sharing Your Success
Finally, sharing your program's success with the community, your partners, and others is important. Writing and speaking about your program's success is a good way to make black women, future members, and your partners aware of Sisters Together and its messages. Highlighting your positive outcomes further promotes better health for black women.
We would like to hear about your program. Our contact details appear at the bottom of this page.
The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a national information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). WIN provides the general public, health professionals, and the media with science-based, up-to-date, culturally relevant materials and tips. Topics include healthy eating, barriers to physical activity, portion control, and eating and physical activity myths. Publications produced by WIN are reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts. This publication was also reviewed by Mark Johnson, M.S.S.W., Health Equity Team Leader, Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, Lexington, KY.
This publication is not copyrighted. WIN encourages users of this brochure to copy and share as many copies as desired.
NIH Publication No. 07-3329
Updated December 2012