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UC CalFresh’s Youth Engagement Initiative builds tomorrow’s leaders

The Issue

Youth live, play, eat, shop, and learn in their communities but are rarely included in decision-making processes that directly impact their health and nutrition. Engaging and building the capabilities of youth as leaders is an important step toward effective policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) changes. Three counties in California—El Dorado, San Mateo, and Imperial—initiated pilot Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) projects during the 2016-2017 school year. All school sites are located in rural regions that face similar issues, such as lack of access to healthy foods, no walkability, and geographic isolation from the rest of the county. As a result, these communities have high rates of obesity, low physical activity, and poor nutrient intake.

What Has ANR Done?

UC CalFresh’s Youth Engagement Initiative, launched in 2016, involves youth in promoting healthy nutrition and physical activity. YPAR engages young people in research and action that builds their skills and fosters strong communities and institutions. Each county team pursued a unique strategy based on youth interests and opportunities. In El Dorado County, a Photovoice and in-school YPAR project with Georgetown Elementary School sixth graders aimed to improve nutrition by purchasing a healthy vending machine. In Imperial County, an after-school YPAR project at Meadows Union Elementary School focused on expanding physical activity opportunities for 6th-8th graders. In San Mateo County, an in-school YPAR project with Pescadero High School students worked to improve the school meals program and communication between students and district administrators. UC CalFresh partnered with the UC Davis Center for Regional Change and the Public Health Institute Center for Wellness and Nutrition to provide ongoing technical assistance and program documentation. Support included in-person trainings, one-on-one coaching, and resources to assist youth to use mapping tools and data to identify needs and build their cases for PSE changes.

The Payoff

Youth gain leadership skills to advocate for healthier communities

Through UC CalFresh’s Youth Engagement Initiative, the counties combined direct nutrition education with PSE change, built and leveraged local partnerships, empowered young people to take on leadership for youth health, and helped youth develop research and presentation skills. In San Mateo County, students surveyed their peers and advocated to add smoothies to the lunch menus. After presentations to school and district officials, their peers, and attendees at the Childhood Obesity Conference, their recommendations were implemented in May 2017. In Imperial County, students met after school and mapped out their school resources, surveyed their peers, and analyzed physical fitness and obesity data for the school to advocate for new physical activity equipment and approval of a playground stencil project. After presentations to school and district officials as well as their peers, their recommendations were approved. In El Dorado County, students researched options for purchasing a healthy vending machine. They presented their findings to the principal, food services staff, teachers, and their peers. This project will continue with a new cohort of youth next year. To read more about UC CalFresh’s Youth Engagement Initiative YPAR projects, see "Moving from Serving Youth to Engaging Youth," https://uccalfresh.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk2286/files/inline-files/UC%20CalFresh%20Youth%20Engagement%20Initiative%20Documentation%20Report_FFY2017.pdf.


Brandon Louie, MS, Community Engagement Coordinator, UC Davis Center for Regional Change, bplouie@ucdavis.edu
Metria Munyan, Youth Engagement Project Manager, Center for Wellness and Nutrition, Metria.Munyan@wellness.phi.org
Andra Nicoli, MA, Program & Evaluation, UC CalFresh State Office