What do 4-Hers do during a pandemic? California 4-H youth members decided to learn about disease outbreaks and transmission, public health investigations, personal practices to stay healthy, and much more.
With the emergence of the coronavirus, 4-H in-person meetings had to be canceled, along with schools, sports and other youth development programs. Emerging research shows this gap of in-person socializing, disruption to routines, fear of the virus, and the loss of a sense of personal autonomy has led to an increase in social, emotional and mental health issues for teens. Over half of teens in a National 4-H Council/ Harris Poll stated that the pandemic has increased their feelings of loneliness, and 7 in 10 teens report struggling with their mental health.
Additionally, the team witnessed that Californians were navigating confusing information about the best way to reduce the spread of the disease, with much misinformation being circulated. So the University of California 4-H Healthy Living Team decided to address these issues the best way they knew how, through education.
Anne Iaccopucci, California 4-H Healthy Living coordinator; Dorina Espinoza, UC Cooperative Extension youth, families and communities advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties; and Marcel Horowitz,UCCE healthy youth, families and communities advisor inYolo County, adapted the CDC/4-H Junior Disease Detective: Operation Outbreak project for remote instruction.
The project focused on concepts of epidemiology and included eight sessions covering public health professions, disease investigation, virus transmission, disease outbreaks, vaccines, immunity, prevention (such as how protective actions like handwashing and wearing masks reduce spread) and education. Project sessions were adapted to be as interactive as possible using virtual delivery.
Eighty-nine youth indicated an interest in participating, with more than 45 4-H members from 15 counties across the state enrolling and completing the Virtual UC 4-H Epidemiology Project. Project meeting materials were coordinated online at https://ucanr.edu/sites/DiseaseDetectives.
True to the 4-H experiential learning framework, and to address the research showing that teens are currently experiencing high levels of loneliness, the Project Leaders intentionally created a learning environment that included interactive, fun, challenging and social activities to foster a sense of connection. At the beginning of each project session, youth worked on team-building activities. For example, youth participated in a mapping activity where they “pinned” their desired vacation destination and attempted to guess each other's location with a selected prop as a hint. This activity culminated with a discussion on how we serve as potential vectors of disease transmission. Also, youth learned about the benefits of wearing face masks with an activity where youth were challenged to blow a rolled up tissue from one to six feet away without a mask and then while wearing a mask. Their giggles did not mask the direct learning of how well a mask can contain one's breath.
When youth were asked “What part of this project was fun and engaging?” several responded, “When we did the activities in breakout rooms,” and “The activities at the beginning of the meetings.” This indicates that this dedicated time for talking with peers was a motivator and benefit of continued participation.
To foster healthy youth, families and communities, this project contributed to the UC ANR Condition Change of improved health for all. Specifically, youth adopted healthy lifestyles and decision-making practices and changed attitudes toward, and gained knowledge about, healthy practices.
After completing the UC 4-H Epidemiology Project, youth reported that they were more likely to wash their hands before food preparation (78.1%), after sneezing or coughing (56.2%), and after shopping in a public space (87.5%). The majority (84.4%) of youth also reported that they were more likely to wear a face mask when out in public, compared to before the project. When youth were asked what they learned from the project, one youth stated, “I learned why masks work, I learned how hand sanitizer works, and I learned how I can help my community.”
Youth reported not only improved health behaviors for themselves, but also reported being leaders in the health of their communities. Many of the young participants (62.5%) reported that they can definitely help control the spread of diseases and 71.9% could envision themselves getting involved in their local community to help slow the spread of disease. Following project participation, over half of all participants picture themselves choosing a career in medicine, public health, veterinary sciences or epidemiology.
Participants of the UC 4-H Epidemiology Project have become advocates for health, with 75% reporting that they are discussing disease transmission and prevention with others. When asked what the best part of the project was, a participant stated, “The best part of the project was learning about how to protect myself and keep my family safe in these troubled times." Other youth stated that their favorite parts were “the interactive activities” and “making new friends.” Others responded to the question “What part of this project was fun and engaging?” with, “I enjoyed interacting with others and getting to collaborate on the final project,” and “discussing ideas with the group.” These indicate that learning reached beyond knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors and into youth development domains as well.
Interested in leading this project for youth 12 years and older in your community? Sixty leaders from throughout America have already been trained and 93% reported they would recommend it.
Contact Anne Iaccopucci at email@example.com for information on how to get started.
- Author: Katie (Cathryn) R Johnson
The 2020-2015 Dietary Guidelines will include something new. “For the first time ever, the committee considered the science to inform dietary guidelines for pregnant and lactating women and for infants and toddlers from birth to age 2,” said Christina Hecht, senior policy advisor for the UC Nutrition Policy Institute.So, what else does the 2020 Scientific Report have to say? The full report is now publicly available to read online, and some of the highlights include:
- The Committee recommends limiting added sugars to 6% or less of our daily calories, rather than 10%or less as is currently recommended.
- While this advisory committee was tasked with developing guidelines for pregnant and breastfeeding women for the first time, it found limited research on which to make specific recommendations. For pregnant women, the committee found, "Evidence suggests that consuming foods within healthy dietary patterns before and/or during pregnancy may modestly reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, and preterm birth." More research in the area of diet and lactation/breastfeeding is needed.
- This advisory committee was also tasked with developing recommendations for infants and young children ages 0 to 24 months, and found some evidence that children who had ever been breastfed had lower rates of type 1 diabetes and asthma. The report highlighted the importance of feeding young children nutrient-dense foods in addition to breastmilk or infant formula. It further advises that children younger than 2 years old should not be given any sugar-sweetened beverages to drink and, in fact, should consume no added sugars.
- The committee found the longstanding advice that healthy diets "include higher intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, low- or nonfat dairy, lean meat and poultry, seafood, nuts, and unsaturated vegetable oils" is still supported by the evidence.
- The committee found the advice to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats (but not necessarily with carbohydrates) is still supported by the evidence.
The National Drinking Water Alliance (coordinated at NPI) also has a website urging the addition of clear and actionable advice on drinking water to the Dietary Guidelines at https://www.drinkingwateralliance.org/submit-a-comment. The webpage includes tips on how to write an effective comment and the link to the comment submission page. Comments are due by Aug. 13.
- Author: Ricardo Vela
Both women face many cultural and economic challenges to achieve their missions, and thanks to their tenacity, dedication and hard work, they have turned their goals into a reality.
Claudia P. Diaz Carrasco, a native of Atizapán de Zaragoza, State of México, has been part of UC ANR since 2015 as Youth Development advisor focusing on Latino and/or low‐income youth and families.
“When I joined ANR, there were really few people in the state and around the country doing work intentionally with Latino youth development and 4-H,” said Diaz-Carrasco.
Since joining 4-H, Diaz-Carrasco has been instrumental to increasing Latino participation in 4-H programs. She works in the Inland Empire, which includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties — two of the largest counties in California, with almost 5 million residents; 65% are Latino.[i]
“About 60% of school-aged youth in Riverside and San Bernardino are Hispanic/Latino,” said Diaz-Carrasco. “Since the beginning, the primary focus of my position has been to develop, implement, evaluate, strengthen and expand local 4-H programming to serve the current under-represented population better."
In an environment that is generally not friendly to changes and challenges, Diaz-Carrasco faces a daily array of obstacles to achieve her goal. Among them are high levels of poverty among the families she serves, high crime rates in some communities, and a lack of interest from the parents, who in most cases work two or three jobs to make ends meet.
“The success of my work as the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) advisor relies on how effective my extension team and I can be in sharing knowledge gained through research, education and program evaluation, and transferring it to the communities we serve in ways that are relevant for their day to day lives while embracing their cultural context,” said Diaz-Carrasco.
The knowledge that Diaz-Carrasco and her team bring directly to the youth, their families and communities in the Inland Empire creates positive changes and healthier lives.
“The way we educate the public matters, who are our educators matters. Science and culture are at the core of every program we have implemented since I started,” Diaz-Carrasco said.
Diaz-Carrasco gives three reasons why her work is penetrating the thick layers of the communities she serves. The first one is that she is an immigrant, like many of the families she works with day in and day out. “I approach my work, knowing that a lot of people are going or have gone through the same process I went through in 2014.”
She also cites thinking out of the box as another reason for her success. “I believe creativity and flexibility are at the core of any programs I develop.”
To exemplify this statement, Diaz-Carrasco and her team partnered with the Mexican Consulate in San Bernardino, where they held a successful summer camp and strengthened the partnership with the Consulate. Youth were able to participate in this unique program that aims to help them embrace their Mexican identity, even when in some cases they or their parents cannot travel outside the US.
The summer camp program was designed to increase positive ethnic identity, and to provide youth development reflecting the Latino and immigrant experience and the physiological and social effects of discrimination. The program also responded to economic poverty by assisting families with transportation, providing snacks and in some cases other items such as toothbrushes, water bottles or connecting families to health and food agencies. “Above all, we held the camp in a place that the families were already familiar with and felt safe, the consulate!” said Diaz-Carrasco. “We turned their art gallery, where official agreements are signed, into a playground. That's what I mean by out of the box.”
The interest in the program was visible from day one. In a matter of hours, 100% of the participants were reached. In the end, the parents expressed their gratitude for offering the programs in an accessible way.
Thinking out of the box has also allowed Diaz-Carrasco to partner with major companies in Southern California for the benefit of the youth.
In five years, Diaz-Carrasco has been able to increase 4-H membership in her area from 667 to 6,021. The overall percentage of Latino youth in 4-H went from 28% to 85%, and the number of volunteers grew from 175 to 354.
In the words of Sofia, a Moreno Valley student and one of the participants in the 4-H Juntos conference, “Juntos 4-H provides a home and a place where you can safely feel like it is your community. I hope expanding the program gives more students an identity as to what the community is like and that there are people who care for them and have someone to relate to and trust.”
In the heart of California's Central Valley, far from the busy streets of the Inland Empire, almost 100,000 ethnic Hmong call communities like Merced and Fresno home. This community has grown from 1,800 in April of 1982 to nearly 95,000 in 2019.[ii]
UC ANR has supported the Hmong communities in diverse areas, from farming to nutrition. For the past 34 years, Sua Vang, Community Health Education Specialist with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), has been educating these communities on the value of healthy eating.
“In 1986, I first moved in from San Diego, and I was looking for a job. My husband happened to be a community aid specialist for low family aid,“ said Vang. “So the EFNEP program asked to have two nutrition educators for this position, he happened to be there, I happened to be looking for a job, and I got hired.”
Tens of thousands of Fresno County families have benefited from her nutrition lessons during three decades of bringing healthy habits to Hmong families. Vang has faced a lot of cultural problems while doing it.
“When we go to recruit for our nutrition program, the husband has to approve it and sometimes the husband does not give his support,” said Vang. “It doesn't matter if the wife would like to take the class.”
Cultural eating habits are also a big challenge, obstacles she has overcome with patience, tenacity and creative thinking. “People from Southeast Asia don't eat or drink milk a lot,” she said. “I introduce the almond milk and rice milk so that even if they have lactose intolerance, they can still have milk and calcium in their diet.”
Vang speaks four languages: Hmong, Lao, Thai and English. She has used different platforms to bring the nutrition programs to the Hmong communities, from churches to private homes to classrooms to airwaves. Vang stresses how challenging recruiting new participants to the nutrition classes has become through the years. The older generation of Hmong don't want to go out of their homes and the new generation, said Vang, are more interested in making money than living a healthy life. But she has a pitch for them. “I say to them, if you have a lot of money and your health is not doing well, you have diabetes, and you are dying out, who is going to spend that money?”
Considering that participants in Vang's nutrition classes are immigrants from countries where food safety and nutrition are not part of their daily eating habits, the impact of her classes within the Hmong community is impressive. 73% of participants have improved in one or more food safety practices. Eighty-nine percent have improved in other areas, like reading nutrition labels and ensuring children eat a healthy breakfast.
“Thanks to this career, I would say that I have helped a lot of people, and I am glad. I know my family, my children are doing good, they eat healthily and they are doing good," Vang said. “I make a lot of new friends. I am delighted knowing that I help them.”
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
The coronavirus crisis is revealing inequities in public health that arise out of social factors. Raising awareness among LGBTQ+ individuals about COVID-19 is one of 85 research projects selected for funding by the University of California to lessen the pandemic's impact.
"LGBTQ+ individuals are at increased risk for severe illness from a COVID-19 infection,” said Katherine Soule, UC Cooperative Extension youth, families and communities advisor, who is leading the project. “We are partnering with LGBTQ+ serving organizations, health care providers, government agencies and decisionmakers to develop an educational campaign. Our goal is to increase the quality of healthcare services for LGBTQ+ individuals.”
The team is working with community partners across the state to deliver the information through social media, online training and other means of information sharing.
One reason that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are vulnerable to more COVID-19 complications is that they are likely to postpone medical care due to fears of stigmatization. Also, LGBTQ+ individuals report poor quality healthcare and abuse in healthcare facilities, which may deter them from seeing a doctor. In addition, LGBTQ+ individuals are also hesitant to reveal or discuss their gender identity and/or sexual orientation, which can lead to inadequate treatment, care and access to essential services.
At the same time, LGBTQ+ individuals are at higher risk of having underlying chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, cancer or HIV. LGBTQ+ people over age 65 are also more likely to suffer from poverty, physical conditions and mental health conditions that put them at higher risk during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Consequentially, healthcare professionals and medical providers need to be prepared to effectively communicate with, engage with and treat LGBTQ+ individuals during this crisis,” Soule said.
Working with LGBTQ+ organizations and health care institutions, Soule and two student interns are leading an effort to develop a campaign to increase awareness among LGBTQ+ individuals of their heightened risk during the COVID-19 crisis. For healthcare providers, they are raising awareness of LGBTQ+ terminology and issues to improve their competency in treating LGBTQ+ patients.
Although statistics on the death toll and infection rates are tracked for race and ethnicity, they are not tracked for LGBTQ+. “The systemic decision to not track sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the reasons why this high-risk population is both more vulnerable and mostly invisible,” Soule said.
“Increasing awareness of these issues by healthcare providers, medical professionals, and community service organizations is vital during the COVID-19 crisis to support positive health outcomes of LGBTQ+ individuals," she said.
Her two student interns are 4-H Youth Development Program alumni: Danielle Pacheco, a Smittcamp honors student at California State University, Fresno, and Trent Baldwin, a Monterey County native majoring in community extension education at The Ohio State University.
“I am pursuing a career in medicine and feel strongly about addressing the needs that marginalized communities face in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis,” Pacheco said. “I am also passionate about LGBTQ+ issues as I am a member of that community. This project is a great way to support the community I love as well as being able to work on something I am passionate about.”
Baldwin said, “Through my time in the 4-H program, I developed a passion for LGBTQ+ youth development and extension work. I worked for a time with Ohio 4-H on their LGBTQ+ Youth Dialogue event. I'm excited to be involved and to get extension work experience in this topic!”
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
There's something magical about exercise. It impacts the body in many different ways, and all of them are good.
Exercise burns calories, improves cardiovascular health, tones muscles, boosts mood, and now scientists are learning that it also thwarts one of the most-feared symptoms of aging, memory loss.
Researchers at UC Irvine are conducting a 15-site national study on the effects of aerobic exercise on adults with mild memory problems. They are hoping to document evidence that will allow physicians to write prescriptions for exercise.
“Exercise is medicine,” said James Hicks, director of UC Irvine's Center for Exercise Medicine and Sport Sciences.
To date, no effective drug therapies to treat dementia have been found.
“Since 2002, 420 clinical trials on drugs targeted for Alzheimer's have been launched. All of them failed,” Hicks said. “No drug will change its trajectory. But physical activity might.”
Another UC Irvine professor, Carl Cotman, agrees.
“That concept has exploded. That's where the future is: understanding how exercise alters disease trajectories and improves outcomes,” Cotman said.
Cotman's research showed that exercise increases production of a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which aides in learning and memory and facilitates connections among nerve cells. It's so critical to brain function that it has been dubbed “Miracle-Gro for the brain.”
“Exercise builds brain health,” Cotman said. “It makes you more efficient. You're thinking cleaner. It introduces a state of readiness.”
UC ANR educators encourage Californians to exercise
While scientists study the impact of exercise at the molecular level, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources nutrition educators continue to emphasize the importance of physical activity when they teach youth and families ways to improve their lives with healthy eating and movement.
UC ANR's Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) is offered in 24 counties in California. It is administered by UC Cooperative Extension offices. EFNEP educators help limited-resource families gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behavior necessary to choose nutritionally sound diets and improve their well-being.
Families who participated in the program have said that it transformed their lives for the better. They have changed what their family eats, switched to low-fat milk instead of whole milk and have fruit for snacks. They eat more vegetables and fruit and thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator. Some walk daily, others play games with their children. Almost all use store ads and unit pricing to get the best shopping deals.
CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California is another nutrition education program administered by UCCE. It helps children and adults choose a healthy lifestyle by encouraging good food habits and decision making skills. Adult nutrition education is provided at no cost to low-income families. The youth nutrition education program provides support and resources to preschool through high school teachers in low-income schools to deliver nutrition and physical activity education in their classrooms.
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC helps families find parks in their neighborhoods so they can stay active, and shows how they can join sports team and locate public pools. The training acknowledges that it can be difficult to add exercise to busy lives, and helps participants overcome the barriers.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend:
- 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week, or 30 minutes five times per week
- Strength and resistance training two times per week
- Flexibility exercises two to three times per week
“Perhaps the most common barrier is a lack of time,” said CalFresh Healthy Living, UC nutrition program coordinator Austin Cantrell. “In order to implement an exercise routine into our lives, many of us will need to plan out our day and see where we can fit exercise into our schedule.”
An important thing to remember, Cantrell said, is that exercise doesn't have to happen all at once.
“If you exercise for 10 minutes three times throughout your day, you will have met your 30-minute requirement,” he said. “If we exercise for 10 minutes before we go to work, take a 10-minute walking break while at work and exercise for 10 minutes after work, we will meet our recommended amount of physical activity for the day.”
A way to save time is engaging in vigorous physical activity, which cuts exercise time recommendation to 75 minutes a week. How can you tell the difference between “moderate” physical activity and “vigorous” physical activity? Examples of moderate activity are walking or gardening. Vigorous physical activity includes running, sprinting or swimming.
“Typically, you will be able to hold a conversation during moderate activity, but will be unable to sing,” Cantrell said. “During vigorous activity, you will not be able to have a conversation without considerable shortness of breath or pausing.”
Some people feel more motivated to be physically active by combining it with activities they enjoy.
“Spend time with your children playing outdoors or playing sports,” Cantrell suggests. “Seek social support by joining walking clubs or recreational sports leagues.”
Should doctors write prescriptions for exercise? By Shari Roan, UC Irvine
Overcoming barriers to exercise By Austin Cantrell, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC