nutrition

Applications Open for FoodCorps CT

FoodCorps service member banner photo

Are you ready to #serveupchange in your community? Apply now for a year of service with FoodCorps Connecticut! The deadline is March 15, but aim to submit early: we’re reviewing applications on a rolling basis. Go to http://foodcorps.org/apply to apply yourself (or share this post with a leader who shares our passion for healthy food in schools!)

Tailored Messages Improve Health and Nutrition in Windsor Students

national school breakfast week
Photo: Heidi Karner

Technology is ubiquitous, and a team of researchers at UConn are harnessing our everyday technology to address obesity issues in children and young adults (Poulin & Peng, 2018). Social media and text messages are a common communication tool among multiple populations, and can positively influence behavior change in health and nutrition (Hsu, M.S.H., Rouf, A., & Allman-Farinelli, M., 2018; Tu, A.W., Watts, A.W., Chanoine, J.P., Panagiotopoulos, C., Geller, J., Brant, R., et al., 2017; Pew Research Center, 2015 & 2018).

Tailored messages for health promotion and obesity prevention using e-health and m-health is supported through Hatch funding from the Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. The inter-disciplinary team includes faculty and staff from Allied Health Sciences, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Communication, Windsor Public Schools, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, UConn Student Health Services, and the Windsor Hunger Action Team.

The team is implementing three connected studies to harness technology and deliver tailored nutrition and health messages to middle school students, adolescents, and young adults to improve diet quality for obesity prevention. Partnerships with the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and Windsor Public Schools reach children. Young adults are included through the study with UConn Student Health Services. Each of the three studies is using quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Valerie Duffy, PhD RD, Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in Allied Health Sciences is the principal investigator. “It’s more meaningful if you tailor messages to someone on health promotion,” Duffy says. “Our goal is to prime the pump and nudge people toward better diet and lifestyle behaviors. The messages were developed with input from those in the age group being served, and the algorithm tailors the messages to the individual’s responses.”

The tailored messages will have short-term and intermediate-term impacts. The child and parent will receive text or email messages on improving diet healthiness of children based on their online responses. Intermediate-term impacts will again be tailored to individual responses and delivered by email, text and social media with the goals of improving diet healthiness, and school meal consumption over the school year.

Heidi Karner is graduating in May of 2019 with her masters’ degree in Health Promotion Sciences from the Department of Allied Health Sciences. She works with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) and the tailored messages project.

When she was an undergraduate in the dietetics program, completing a 4-week supervised practice rotation in Windsor, Karner saw a need in the community that wasn’t being met. This led her to pull together a collaborative team including the Windsor Schools, the Windsor Hunger Action Team, and the University to prepare and successfully obtain a seed grant from Foodshare. “The school food service director wanted to increase breakfast participation at Sage Park Middle School, and received $5,000 to start the project. We also tested breakfast items with the students, and many of our vendors donated products.”

The goals for the message program at Sage Park Middle School are to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, increase

National School Breakfast week at Sage Park Middle School in Windsor
Photo: Heidi Karner

breakfast program participation, and decrease food insecurity in middle school students. These goals were identified as problem areas by the middle school staff and the Hunger Action Team.

The collaborative team is working on a quantitative and qualitative approach to develop the message program. In the quantitative phase, 200 students completed an internet-based survey on what foods and activities they like or dislike and their attitudes and believes. The students completed the survey on Chromebooks available to each student at school. The students received messages tailored to their responses. From initial analysis of this quantitative phase, the tailored messages were well received by students — 78% agreed that they learned new information, 86% reported the messages were helpful, and 73% would like to receive more messages in the future.

In the qualitative phase, the complete findings of the quantitative survey will be shared with the stakeholders. The feedback will identify priority areas where student behaviors differ from recommendations. Feelings and feedback from students will be obtained through focus groups.

This feedback is being used to create a fun and interactive computer game to embed on the website. The Department of Communication at UConn is collaborating on the computer game, and it will be piloted with the middle school students.

“We’re trying to change the culture in the school and community about food and health,” Karner says. “I’m always asking what is relevant to the students, and what do they want.”

It all connects back to understanding the population being served, their health behaviors, and preferences. “It’s not just about hunger, but nutrition too,” Karner adds. “We focus on the quality of the foods.” Although Karner is graduating, this is a continuing project that will be refined and passed along to other graduate students to champions, continued collaboration with stakeholders and sharing best practices without other school systems.

 

References

Hsu, M.S.H., Rouf, A., & Allman-Farinelli, M. (2018). Effectiveness and behavioral mechanisms of social media interventions for positive nutrition behaviors in adolescents: A systematic review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63(5), 531-545. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.06.009.

Pew Research Center. Social Media Fact Sheet. Internet and Technology2018.

Pew Research Center. Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015. Internet & Technology, 2015.

Poulin, S. M. & Peng, J. (2018). Connecticut Childhood Obesity Report, 2018. Hartford, CT: Connecticut Department of Public Health.

Tu, A. W., Watts, A. W., Chanoine, J. P., Panagiotopoulos, C., Geller, J., Brant, R., et al. Does parental and adolescent participation in an e-health lifestyle modification intervention improves weight outcomes? BMC Public Health. 2017,17:352.

 

Preventing Early Childhood Obesity

UConn Allied Health Sciences community outreach program
Lindsey Fenn working with a group of children and their parents.

Preventing obesity in early childhood is a critical issue being addressed by a multi-disciplinary team from UConn. It’s one of three complementary projects led by faculty in Allied Health Sciences, and is funded by a grant from the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut. The project focuses on preventing obesity in early childhood by offering parents of economic disadvantage simple and feasible feeding practices to develop healthier food preferences for their children. Valerie Duffy, PhD, RD, and Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA from Allied Health Sciences and the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity are the co-PIs.

Lindsay Fenn, RD, is a masters’ student in Health Promotion Sciences in Allied Health Sciences, and has conducted nutrition outreach education with family resources centers in East Hartford. Fenn conducts outreach education for three different schools, although the majority of her time is spent with Early Childhood Learning Center at Hockanum School. There are multiple partners in East Hartford that the team works with to reach audiences and broaden their impact. These include the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) centers, the Hunger Action Team, and Foodshare mobile sites.

“I ran workshops for parents on picky eating and eating healthy in general, mainly with preschool ages,” says Fenn. Each workshop is approximately one hour. She begins by working with the parents, while the children have supervised play time. Next, there is a workshop for the kids, and parents are encouraged to be involved in this segment, cooking with their kids.

UConn student Lindsey Fenn works in the community for her internship with the UConn Allied Health Sciences program.
Lindsey Fenn (far right) with a mother and child at a community outreach program.

“Programs for kids are interactive, for example, we had them make banana snowmen with pretzels for the arms and carrots for the nose. We get the kids involved so they will eat healthy foods and try new things,” Fenn adds.

Part of the project at Hockanum included a Farm to School program where they built a garden, and took the classrooms outside, planted seeds, and then volunteers weeded the gardens over the summer. Lindsay attends the community dinners at a local church, and covered nutrition topics with the participants at the dinner. She is currently working with the Mayberry Elementary School and focusing on healthy eating around the holidays.

The grant through the Child Health and Development Institute began last year, and is building off of the relationships Fenn and the Allied Health Sciences team have built in East Hartford. “Our research question is to determine if parents are following the guidelines for feeding children ages 12-36 months,” Fenn says. “We also want to determine what the knowledge gaps are for these parents.”

The team at Allied Health Sciences are using a survey and other research to fill the knowledge gaps for parents of young children. The survey was created with input from multiple stakeholders. Staff at the family resource centers were involved in developing the survey to make sure it was a good fit for the populations served. For example, the survey was administered online with pictures to reinforce concepts. Fenn conducted the survey at the East Hartford WIC program, a daycare center, and the library, and had 134 parents participate.

“Our goal is to communicate consistently with parents in East Hartford,” Harris states. “We want to help them identify one or two behaviors that could be addressed with better communication, and that they are willing to change. These may be reducing sugary drinks, replacing snacks with healthier ones, practicing responsive eating, or adding variety to fruits and vegetables.”

The team focuses on two or three changes that a parent can make in their child’s nutrition. Follow up emails with participants build off of the previous work of the messaging campaign. Dr. Molly Waring is another Allied Health team member with expertise in social media as a communication tool. Social media platforms can be used for peer support after the initial communication from the Allied Health Sciences team members.

Initial analysis shows the results are supported by previous research. There is a lack of vegetable diversity and variety in children’s diets. Numerous parents cited that they are serving their children sugar sweetened beverages.

The next phase of the team’s research is convening focus groups at WIC and Hockanum in January and February that will talk about the main areas and gaps in knowledge that the research identified. Results are being shared with stakeholders so that they can also tailor their nutrition education messages to help parents decrease sugar-sweetened beverages and increase vegetable variety.

“I’ve gotten to know the different families, and received positive feedback about the workshops,” Fenn concludes. “It’s rewarding to interact with people, and see parents again after you’ve worked with them. They appreciate our work and say that we’ve helped them make positive changes.”

The grant is only for the project in East Hartford, however Duffy and Harris are developing a proof of concept through this project so that East Hartford can be a pilot for other communities to use communication in preventing early childhood obesity.

By Stacey Stearns

Communicating Towards Improved Health and Nutrition

Obesity is increasingly affecting residents of Connecticut. Recent statistics report that 20% of children and 36% of young adults are afflicted by obesity (Poulin & Peng, 2018). A team of Extension educators, faculty, and graduate students in Allied Health Sciences are working with community partners to take a multi-faceted approach to addressing health and nutrition issues in schools and families through research and outreach.

“We’re trying to empower income-challenged families to minimize the barriers to healthy eating and lifestyles,” says Valerie Duffy, PhD RD, principal investigator or co-principal investigator on the projects, and Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in Allied Health Sciences. “We’re working with stakeholders to determine what modes of communication are best for them, and how to close the gap between what the families are doing, and what behaviors would be better.”

Allied Health Sciences program for families in East Hartford
Lindsey Fenn, RD, a graduate student in Allied Health Sciences working with a group of children and parents in East Hartford.

Currently there are three funding sources supporting the initiatives of the team. The first is a grant from the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut on preventing obesity in early childhood by offering parents of economic disadvantage simple and feasible feeding practices to develop healthier food preferences for their children. Duffy and Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA from Allied Health Sciences and the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity are the co-PIs. Other team members are from Allied Health Sciences, the Rudd Center, the Department of Nutritional Sciences, the Department of Communication, and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The community partner is East Hartford Family Resource Center.

“We have a collaborative team that’s trying to develop simple messages for families to help them establish healthy eating behaviors in toddlers. We hope to make messages are tailored to families so they are more meaningful,” says Duffy.

Hatch funding from the Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station, also in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources funds tailored messages for health promotion and obesity prevention using e-health and m-health. The inter-disciplinary team is also on this project, with many of the same team members. Three connected studies will harness technology to deliver tailored nutrition and health messages to middle school students, adolescents, and young adults to improve diet quality for obesity prevention. Community partners include Windsor Public Schools and UConn Student Health Services.

The SNAP-Ed program, funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) of the United States Department

Allied Health Sciences graduate student working with Windsor resident
Heidi Karner, RD, a graduate student in Allied Health Sciences works with a Windsor resident.

of Agriculture (USDA) is the third funding source, and glue that connects all of the projects. The SNAP-Ed program has built a foundation in communities throughout central Connecticut and developed strong partnerships over many years of collaboration. In turn, these partnerships allow the team to identify community needs with input from audiences served and program partners.

“We make lessons applicable to our audiences’ lives,” says Tina Dugdale, MS, RD/RN. “It’s possible to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables in recommended serving sizes.” The SNAP-Ed program engages undergraduate and graduate students in Allied Health Sciences – especially those in the Dietetics Coordinated Undergraduate Program and Internship – who work in a variety of communities in Connecticut to deliver nutrition education and carry out service and outreach projects.

All three of the projects offer communication and outreach that is culturally relevant and tailored to the populations served. Materials and classes are offered in English and Spanish. Survey research will identify the key gaps in behavior, and further influence the communication campaigns. The goal connecting all projects is to improve family dietary quality and energy balance in families of economic disadvantage.

“Many people are banded together throughout the state putting forth efforts to help people with their hardships,” Dugdale concludes. “It’s a satisfying victory when we see our participants make small changes that contribute to the improvement of their health and nutrition.”

 

References

Poulin, S. M. & Peng, J. (2018). Connecticut Childhood Obesity Report, 2018. Hartford, CT: Connecticut Department of Public Health.

 

Text by Stacey Stearns

Angie Tovar: 4-H Alumni Spotlight

Angie Tovar of Danbury was a teen mentor in our CT FANs IM 4-H program. She is entering her junior year of college at Western Connecticut State University where she majors in Elementary Education. Angie currently works as a translator for St. Peter Church in Danbury and Student Worker for Pre-Collegiate and Access Programs in Danbury. We caught up with her to learn more about how her experience with the 4-H FANs program impacted her life.

4-H taught me to….. not be afraid to put myself out there. At first, a lot of the activities we conducted made me nervous, but I learned to push myself and try new things.

4-H taught me to stop…. Doubting myself. It really helped me believe that I can do anything if I really set my mind to it. It sounds a little cliché, but it’s the truth. The staff and the way this program is set up makes everyone truly believe that.

Because of 4-H….. I decided to become a teacher. I loved the experience of being in front of children and getting to pass on my knowledge of a subject onto them. I realized that teaching is what I truly love to do.

If I hadn’t been in 4-H…. I would have probably been in college, pursuing another career, and pretty miserable because it is not what I truly wanted to do.

 

How do you keep the 4-H motto – “To Make the Best Better” – now?  I always keep this in mind, reminding me that there is always room for improvement. Angie and other teen mentors at a programAfter every day of the program, we would reflect on what we did and how we could improve for next time. I still do this a lot after I finish anything. I truly believe that no matter how good something I did was, there is always a way for me to do better.

How did 4-H contribute to your leadership skills?  4-H helped me to be a better public speaker and think about what you want the outcome of a lesson to be. Since I want to become an Elementary School teacher I have to be comfortable speaking in front of others. 4-H provided me with the opportunity to practice this. The staff helped coach me and give me constructive criticism to better my public speaking. Also, it made me realize that when planning for activities, you have to think about others and what you want them to get out of this. It is the most important thing when prepping for lessons.

What do you wish people knew about 4-H?  There are so many programs with 4-H! I feel that in our area very few people know about 4-H and all the wonderful things they do to better the lives of young people. I wish people knew that 4-H has just about everything.

Why should young people join 4-H?  These programs provide youth with so many skills that they will continue to use for the rest of their lives. Each program works on bettering a child’s life in different ways. Also, each program makes families feel part of a community. They bring parents together and make them realize that they are not alone.

Patriotic Smoothies

serving smoothies in Meriden schools

In Meriden schools, they served Red, White, & Blue Smoothies in honor of the winter Olympics and local dairy in February. What a cool idea! And one that you can replicate at home in honor of Memorial Day. It’s a fun and delicious smoothie. The layers were strawberry, banana, and blueberry served at breakfast with graham crackers. 

Put Local on Your Tray is a farm-to-school program helping Connecticut schools serve and celebrate regionally grown food.

Growing Gardens, Growing Health in Norwalk

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information. 

student in Norwalk with strawberry in the garden
Photo: Heather Peracchio

Growing Gardens, Growing Health connects low income parents and their children to instruction, hands-on practice, and resources for gardening, nutrition, and cooking in order to encourage healthier food choices for the whole family. Over the course of the past 6 summers, participants worked with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist from EFNEP and certified master gardeners from Extension to plant and grow fresh vegetables and herbs. Over ten weeks, families received practical, family- and budget-friendly information about nutrition and built essential skills by making fun, healthy recipes. Each week children of the families learned about MyPlate and the food groups through fun and interactive games and activities with the help of EFNEP volunteers and an Extension summer intern.

Economically disadvantaged families were recruited to participate in a 10-week, hands-on, nutrition and gardening education program (n=35). Program goals were to enhance participants’ knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy associated with purchasing, preparing and consuming produce; incorporating physical activity into everyday life; and gardening and growing produce for personal use. Childhood obesity rates are higher than national average, 39% in this city. The Growing Gardens, Growing Health program helps families work together to grow fruits and vegetables on a community farm, learn about nutrition and how to prepare healthy foods in the on-premises, fully equipped kitchen classroom, and enjoy the freshly prepared fruit/vegetable-based meals as a group seated around the table. Local health department educators partnered with University Extension educators including a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), bilingual program aide, Master Gardener (MG) volunteers and student volunteers to implement this program. Data collection included a pre-post survey (n=21), and participants demonstrated increased readiness to change physical activity behaviors (47%), cooking behaviors with vegetables/fruits (40%) and consumption of 5 servings vegetables/fruits daily (31%). A family shares, “I am so glad we committed to this. We are eating better, with more nutrition, using less of a budget.” In summary, garden-based nutrition education that is family-focused may improve physical activity, vegetable/fruit consumption and self-efficacy associated with purchasing, preparing, and consuming produce; such improvements may decrease risk of obesity.

Nutrition & Wellness in New London County

fruit and vegetables in shopping basketErica Benvenuti, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) dietitian, provides workshops, presentations, and food demonstrations for low-income families and individuals in Southeastern Connecticut. The interactive, educational classes are designed to help people make healthy food choices on a limited budget. 

The EFNEP program’s nutrition and cooking classes teach practical, easily applicable skills, such as simple dishes to make with foods that are easy to have on hand. Participants learn life skills, smart shopping, and how to prepare easy, nutritious meals and snacks. The program serves a wide range of constituents, including middle school, high school, and college students; pregnant women and new moms; special education classes; refugees and recently arrived immigrants; and residents of transitional living facilities. Participants have the opportunity to taste the items prepared, and, in some classes, help prepare the food.

Erica also participates in New London County food policy planning and educates agency staff in order to broaden the impact of the program and regularly reach new clients. Program partners include Ledge Light health District, New London Mayor’s Fitness Initiative, Norwich Free Academy, United Way of Southeast CT, and Catholic Charities. EFNEP workshops have helped motivate and empower participants to make healthier food choices and become more physically active. 

The newly renovated gardens at River-front Childrens’ Center. 

Allied Health Sciences School and Family SNAP-Ed

boy in Allied Health Sciences SNAP-Ed program mother and child participate in SNAP-Ed program with healthy eating SNAP-Ed course on economically purchasing food and groceries

Last year, through the hard work of all, the Allied Health Sciences School and Family SNAP-Ed program reached 5,549 participants and 6,164 contacts via single and multiple sessions. Education focused on: 1) cooking more, economical food shopping, safe food handling; 2) improving consumption of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and avoiding sweetened beverages; and 3) increasing physical activity to balance calories consumed with energy expended. We also reached 33,032 contacts indirectly with food and nutrition topics based on MyPlate and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Enjoy some of the pictures of the SNAP-Ed events at West Hartford Fellowship Housing (Donna Zigmont and undergraduates Brianne Kondratowicz and Sarah Chau) reaching older adults with tips on economically purchasing and easily adding fruits and vegetables to increase dietary quality. A delicious fresh fruit salsa made on the spot served as a tasting opportunity. At Hockanum Preschool in East Hartford, parents and their preschoolers enjoyed “cooking together” under the guidance of UConn graduate student Samantha Oldman RDN and Lindsey Kent RDN our community partner from Shoprite.

All participants seemed to enjoy the healthy layered yogurt parfaits. Our UConn student educators made us proud with their professionalism, enthusiasm, and ability to engage these SNAP audiences! Is there anything better than kids eating healthy food?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through the Food Stamp Act of 1977, as amended, provides for the operation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) in the State of Connecticut. The State of Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) has been designated by the USDA to administer the State’s SNAP-Ed activities and DSS in turn has contracted with UConn and the CT Department of Public Health to design and implement the SNAP-Ed projects. Under this contract, the USDA has authorized the University of Connecticut’s Department of Allied Health Sciences to administer, design, develop implement and evaluate a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) plan.