Healthy food choices
Unique UGA partnership trains high school students to educate food-insecure Georgians.
As University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s youth leadership program, Georgia 4-H reaches children in every county across the state. One of the four founding principles of 4-H is health, and club members promise to pledge their health for better living each time they recite the 4-H pledge. So a new program that teaches leadership skills and health food choices is a perfect fit for Georgia 4-H.
Enter the 4-H HOPE Action Leader program — Helping Other People Eat and Eat Healthy. The program is the result of a unique partnership between Georgia 4-H, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Georgia Food Bank Association and the Arby’s Foundation.
“By combining Children’s Healthcare’s Strong4Life ambassador program for high school students with Georgia 4-H’s leadership development programs and resources from the Georgia Food Bank Association, we can now offer a tract for action leaders and combat childhood hunger and obesity in our state,” said Mandy Marable, a UGA Extension specialist in the Georgia 4-H state office.
Why does Georgia need a program like this? One in four Georgia children is food insecure, which means they are unsure of where or when they will get their next meal. As a result of persistently high unemployment, 82 percent of Georgia families rely on food pantries for assistance, Marable said. And four in 10 Georgia children are ranked as overweight or obese.
To reach this population of Georgians, the HOPE partnership first started a student recipe contest, Pantry Pride. Georgia 4-H’ers create a recipe using foods typically received from a food pantry. The student-cooks learn about poverty, hunger and underprivileged Georgians, as well as the cost of food and what it takes to feed a family. As an aside, a recipe bank of inexpensive, nutritious meals is created for distribution at food pantries.
Next, high school-aged 4-H’ers, called action leaders, were trained to teach, mentor and lead community service projects focused on raising awareness of the correlation of hunger to obesity. The program was piloted two years ago in DeKalb and Rockdale Counties where healthy snack food demonstrations, a Kids Day of Play carnival, healthy food drives at high schools and elementary schools, and lessons at farmers markets were presented and healthy snack videos were created by the student leaders.
“Who would think that there are obese people who are classified as hungry,” said Marie Trice, 4-H agent in DeKalb County. “We have to teach people how to identify people with this problem so that we can close the gap and make people aware of the essentials — be active, drink more water, get less screen time, eat more fruits and vegetables, drink less sugary drinks and eat less fats.”
Trice’s HOPE 4-H’ers delivered healthy snack lessons using impactful visuals to show how much sugar or fat children, and adults, consume. “For example, in a typical program we might line up 10 drinks from a high-powered energy drink to juice to water,” she said. “Then the students, and adults, have to put them in order based on their sugar content. Most people get it wrong.”
“The program was a great way to educate youth about the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle and that being healthy was more than just exercising.”
— Brian Lucear
In another lesson, students must select the healthiest snack between a glass of juice and a cup of jelly beans. “The point is that the juice contains as much sugar as the jelly beans. But you would never give your child a cup of jelly beans as a snack,” Trice said. “As a home economics major, I know a serving of juice has always been 4 ounces, but no one drinks just 4 ounces of juice any more.”
Another visual is a soft drink placed atop 30 pounds of sugar to represent how much sugar a person consumes in a year by drinking one soft drink per day. To show how much fat is in a typical fast food hamburger, the 4-H’ers spread Crisco on a burger and then offer it to the students.
“The kids are teaching the lessons and the program was designed to have the kids going into the community and making a difference,” said Trice, whose daughter was among the first action leaders to be trained. “When the students know better choices, they can make better choices.”
Trice saw the student-leaders make better choices as they were trained to teach the healthy choices’ lessons. “I watched them change their habits. My own daughter started drinking more water and less sodas. Now I can’t pay her to drink a soda,” she said.
Artis Trice (no relation) became a HOPE action leader after watching commercials about impoverished American families. “I was truly puzzled by the fact that one of the most indulgent countries in the world could have so many people wondering where their next meal would come from,” said Trice, a student at Arabia Mountain High School. “I thought I would become a health machine, teaching people about healthy living while encouraging families and individuals to seek community programs in which they could get nourishment.”
Brian Lucear, now a mass media major in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, was also one of the pilot action leaders. “Since teaching the children, I find myself being more cautious of choices in my diet, especially with carbonated drinks,” he said. “The program was a great way to educate youth about the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle and that being healthy was more than just exercising.”
Lucear’s correct. The HOPE program incorporates nutritional advice from Extension specialists in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, uses UGA Extension’s Walk Georgia physical fitness program to teach children and their parents to add more exercise to their daily lives and lessons from National 4-H Council’s Health Rocks! Program to teach well-rounded healthy life skills.
In DeKalb County, Trice has built a network of support at parks and recreation centers and after-school programs. Marable says this is one reason DeKalb County was selected as a pilot county.
“DeKalb County has a high obesity rate and and a high food insecurity rate,” Trice said. “By combining our strengths, 4-H, the food bank and Children’s Healthcare are able to reach a lot of young people across the state through the HOPE program. This is one of the most positive partnerships I’ve ever been a part of. We are truly reaching people where obesity and hunger intersect.”
The pilot group organized five community-based youth-led projects that reached 453 adults and 502 youths. Now two years after the program was launched, HOPE action leaders teach healthy living lessons in 15 counties across Georgia.
— Sharon Dowdy, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences