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Eatfit: shaping the lives of adolescents

The Issue

An entire generation of California youth faces a lifetime of obesity, due, in part, to poor dietary choices and physical inactivity. Obesity reduces an adolescent’s quality of life, and can lead to life-shortening chronic health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Middle-school teachers asked Cooperative Extension educators for educational tools to assist students with healthier eating and becoming more physically active.

What Has ANR Done?

A team of University of California and Cooperative Extension (CE) researchers created EatFit, a fun, interactive, computer-based nutrition and physical activity curriculum that middle-school teachers use to integrate obesity prevention and nutrition education in their classes. In the last eight years, CE staff trained teachers and community leaders in 35 counties to use EatFit, with at least 105,000 California teens completing the program.

Teens helped select the activities in the curriculum. The resulting nine-lesson EatFit curriculum includes a web-based eating analysis, teen magazine, and healthful recipes for foods that teens like. EatFit teaches students to develop the skills to reach their own diet and fitness goals.

The Payoff

Changing behavior and improving academic performance

California teens who completed EatFit improved their food and physical activity choices that have the potential to improve their quality of life and reduce their risk of obesity and chronic diseases. Examples include eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising more.

A study in San Joaquin County showed teens making statistically significant gains in dietary behavior scores and physical activity self-confidence. Seventy-four percent reported making at least one “lasting improvement” in their food choices such as eating more vegetables/fruit, and 69% reported improved physical activity levels, such as adding stretching three times a week before activity. Participants (87%) reported making an effort to reach their goals. Importantly, 71% indicated they also gained confidence in their ability to maintain these healthful behaviors in the future. In a study in Tulare County, Eatfit graduates increased their overall standardized achievement test scores in English and math.

EatFit has received numerous awards such as Excellence in Community Nutrition by the American Dietetic Assn. and the Dannon Institute. It was cited as a model nutrition education program in two university textbooks; recognized for “International Best Practices for Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes” by the Ontario Heart Health Resource Center of Canada and the University of Waterloo; awarded the highest rating “Gold” by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the Cooper Institute as a primary prevention intervention “having the greatest potential to help reduce childhood obesity.”


Supporting Unit: Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

Margaret Johns, Patti Wooten-Swanson, Connie Schneider, Marilyn Townsend,(530 754-9222, UC Davis Nutrition Dept.