List of Stories
Alvord Unified School District was awarded a $1.1 million Physical Education (PE) Program Grant for 2012-2015 and UC Cooperative Extension was a partner on this grant. In addition to improving PE programs, the grant objectives include increasing ongoing assessment and monitoring, increasing district and community support, and transitioning from a sports-based PE program to a wellness-based curriculum aligned to State standards. To be successful, Alvord Unified needed a team of dedicated partners. UC Cooperative Extension was one of the key partners working alongside others such as the Alliance for a Healthier Generation funded by Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools, the Nutrition Education Obesity Prevention Program, and 15 other public entities and community-based organizations.
In Riverside County, the CalFresh program (federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) serves 289,188 low-income individuals. According to California Food Policy Advocates, 37% of low-income households in 2014 were food insecure, having limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Educating CalFresh participants about making healthy food choices and shopping on a limited budget can help to improve their nutrition and food security; however, the challenge is that this population is very hard to reach and may be at different stages of readiness to change behaviors.
Despite the documented health benefits of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, less than 50 percent of California children eat five or more servings of fruit/vegetables daily. Low-income populations in particular face many barriers to consuming fruit and vegetables. To overcome these barriers, the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) changed its policy in October 2009 and began distributing cash vouchers to low-income women and children to purchase fruit and vegetables.
California is one of the states with the highest prevalence of obesity among preschool-aged children from low-income families. The Center for Disease Control examined the 2009 data from Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System and found that more than 15 percent of low-income 2- to 4-year-old children in California are overweight or obese (defined as being at or above the 95th percentile on the growth chart). In Riverside County, 13.8 percent of children ages 2 to 4 living in a household under 185 percent federal poverty level are overweight (2007 California Health Interview Survey).
Almost one third of youth ages 10 to 14 living in Riverside County are either overweight, obese or are at risk of being overweight. If we focus on children living in poverty, the number increases to 42 percent, according to the 2007 California Health Interview Survey. The survey also reports that 70 percent of Riverside youth ages 10 to 14 eat less than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, 47 percent said they ate fast food two or more times in the past week, 19 percent drank two or more glasses of soda or other sugary drinks the previous day, and only 22 percent are active for at least one hour every day in a typical week.
As more and more agricultural land in Riverside County is converted into housing, children become more distant from their agricultural roots. Gardening exposes children to science and agriculture and increases the likelihood they will eat more fruits and vegetables. Inadequate daily intake of produce by youth and childhood obesity are real concerns. These issues underscore the need to support school teachers in their efforts to start, maintain and use a school garden to promote students' education and health.