Thursday, September 22, 2016

USDA Tours National Health Foundation's Successful Youth-Led Health Academy Programs

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Administrator Audrey Rowe met with youth and leadership of the National Health Foundation's (NHF) innovative youth-led Health Academy program to highlight successful implementation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program –Education (SNAP-Ed) funded Champions for Change grant, administered locally by the Los Angeles County Public Health Department.  The goal of SNAP-Ed is to improve the likelihood that persons eligible for SNAP will make healthy food choices within a limited budget and choose physically active lifestyles.

The Health Academy, a youth-driven nutrition education and obesity prevention program, has been an opportunity for youth at Thomas Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles to create and implement upstream interventions to improve the health of their community. The focus of Rowe's visit will be the following Health Academy successes: The Mini Farm-Stand/Breakfast in the Classroom food waste abatement project, the school cafeteria makeover and the Healthy Marketing and Product placement corner store makeover projects. "We are honored to have been a part of Administrator Rowe's visit to southern California. The youth involved in Health Academy have impacted the health of their community in tangible ways that are rippling out beyond the school's walls. The enthusiasm of the Health Academy students is touching families and friends and creating a veritable shift in consciousness around what constitutes health," shared NHF President and CEO Kelly Bruno.

About the Health Academy Projects  The Mini Farm-Stand project was designed by students to provide classmates access to healthy snacks while curbing food waste. Students placed attractive baskets in pilot classrooms and filled them with the fruit and foods left over from the Breakfast in the Classroom program. Typically, these foods would have been discarded, however, by placing them in the Farm-Stand baskets, students were able to simply take a piece of fruit at any time in the day, as needed. The results of the pilot were remarkable. Food waste was significantly reduced and students greatly appreciated having access to healthy options to the typical snack bar and vending machine fare offered between school meals. The Mini Farm-Stand project has been expanded through two Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools and is recognized as a potential model for district-wide implementation.

Students in the Health Academy also tackled the issue of low participation in the school lunch program. The youth polled their fellow students and learned that the layout and appearance of the cafeteria was not conducive to purchasing and consuming a meal in the allotted 30-minute lunch break and that many students were consuming snack foods for lunch rather than tackle the lunch lines. With a few minor tweaks to the layout and a creative point-of-purchase marketing scheme complete with posters touting the value of school lunches, the youth were able to significantly increase participation in the school lunch program.

The Health Academy youth shifted their attention to the community around their school and have begun to offer local merchants 'Store Makeovers'. Recognizing that South Los Angeles, with its high number of fast-food restaurants and liquor stores constitutes a food desert, the students set out to make fresh produce and water available at the corner stores closest to their school. Students worked with Mercado Garibaldi owner, Joel, to increase the visibility of bottled water as an option to sugary beverages, and they worked with La Favorita owner, Carlos, to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Both retailers embraced the changes and the energy of the students and plan to continue offering healthy options year-around.                                               

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

School-Based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program Leads to Longer, Healthier Lives

Designed and facilitated by NHF, Be a STAR girls is a school-based teen pregnancy prevention program for adolescent females at-risk for a first time pregnancy. The program focuses on healthy behaviors, family planning, skill development, communication, and goal oriented behavior to empower teen girls to prevent unplanned pregnancies and improve their overall health, well-being, and success in life.

We recently caught up with one of our Be a STAR graduates, Ty’Kese, before she headed off to college. Ty’kese epitomizes what Be a STAR is all about. She is a Successful Teen Acting Responsibly. Pregnancy and parenthood cause many young, promising teens to drop out of school. And dropping out of school can completely devastate their lives and shut down otherwise bright futures.

High school drop-outs face unemployment, poverty – and shorter lives. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a significant link between education and health. High school graduates live longer than high school dropouts. College graduates have even longer life spans, better access to health care, better dietary and health practices, and overall better health.

Ty’Kese is smart and interested in making a difference in others’ lives. She’s a vegetarian. She wants to study psychology and social work as an undergraduate and then earn her master’s degree. She prides herself on asking questions and being well informed in the classroom and in the world at large.

Ty’Kese was surprised when the social worker at her high school recommended she get involved with NHF’s Be a STAR girls program. Although she’d had a few pregnancy scares, she really didn’t think she was at-risk of becoming pregnant. Plus, helping to take care of her younger brother at home, she felt, gave her a good idea of what it would be like to be a young mother. It didn’t seem like it would be that hard.

The truth is she didn’t want anything to do with Be a STAR girls, but she sat in on one session and was hooked. She loved getting honest, factual information about health and sexuality. She loved being in an atmosphere where she could freely ask questions. She appreciated having the opportunity to learn more about her own body in a safe environment with other girls. And it was eye opening for her to have myths such as, "you can’t become pregnant when you have your period" debunked.

What is shocking is that Ty’Kese had taken several other health and sex education classes and said she learned more in just a couple of Be a STAR sessions than she ever learned before. Be a STAR prepared her for adulthood by giving her full information about her birth control options and helping her set forth her personal goals for the next two, five, and ten years.

The goal setting exercises caught her attention. Yes, she enjoyed helping take care of her little brother, but now she saw how completely different this would be from actually being a young mom. In one exercise, Ty’Kese created a daily schedule of what her life would be like as a parent. This “as if” schedule showed her an unending string of early mornings, grueling days, and the difficulty of getting someone to watch her baby while she went to school. She could see how extremely difficult, if not impossible, it would be to reach her goals in these circumstances.

Ty’Kese is more concerned, careful, and knowledgeable about birth control than she used to be. Her eyes are wide open. She pays attention to her own body and is self-aware. She wishes Be a STAR was required for all girls at her former high school.

She wants to be a mom one day, when she’s ready, perhaps in a decade, after she has completed her education and has a good job as a social worker. For now, Ty’Kese wants to enjoy being a student and focus on her goals for a life that will be filled with achievements and the prospect of long-term health.