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Integrated youth, families, and communities programming increases health and wellness

The Issue

Eating healthily and being physically active are two of the most important health behaviors for preventing obesity and related chronic diseases. In California, over 40 percent of 5th graders are overweight or obese and California spends over $52 billion annually in healthcare costs associated with obesity. Youth in low-income and minority communities face greater barriers to maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity. There is strong evidence that participation in high-quality positive youth development programming decreases the incidence of risk behaviors, improves school achievement, and increases a sense of personal efficacy and empathy in youth. Historically, however, youth of color have been less likely to participate in positive youth development programming like 4-H.

What Has ANR Done?

Starting in 2016, the Youth, Families, and Communities team in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties began developing integrated 4-H youth development and UC CalFresh (SNAP-Ed) programming to address healthy living in communities that traditionally have not participated in 4-H. This programming is delivered through in-school as well as after-school activities through 4-H Student Nutrition Advisory Council (4-H SNAC) Clubs. 4-H SNAC Clubs combine the positive youth development expertise from 4-H staff with the existing partnerships and community health expertise of the UC CalFresh program staff. Working with 5th and 6th grade student leaders, 4-H SNAC Clubs allow youth members to co-create health advocacy strategies for their school and communities through strong, ongoing youth-adult partnerships. Students build leadership, presentation, and advocacy skills, enabling them to provide community and peer-to-peer education to increase health and wellness in their communities. In federal fiscal year 2017, 128 youth from low-income Latino communities participated in 4-H SNAC clubs, contributing over 4,000 hours of youth leadership through training, planning, or providing peer and community education. 4-H SNAC youth educated over 4,100 youth and 220 adults.

The Payoff

Youth increase healthy behaviors and take an active role in the health of their community

Pre- and post-surveys of youth leaders (n = 30) showed that after participating in 4-H SNAC Clubs they found it easier to engage in healthy behaviors such as: choosing smaller servings of high-fat foods, drinking fewer sugary drinks, choosing healthier snacks, and engaging in moderate physical activities. Over 96 percent of 4-H SNAC Club youth leaders agreed or strongly agreed that “I encourage my family to eat meals together.” Research has shown that families eating together promotes physical and emotional health benefits. Additionally, from pre- to post-surveys, a higher percentage of youth indicated they think it is important to be a role model to others and take an active role in their community. Through these efforts, UC ANR is critically contributing to California’s fight against obesity and related chronic diseases among our low-income and Latino youth and communities, improving their lives and saving the state in future healthcare costs.


Supporting Unit: Santa Barbara County

San Luis Obispo County
Shannon Klisch sklisch@ucanr.edu
Katherine E. Soule kesoule@ucanr.edu