- (Public Value) UCANR: Promoting healthy people and communities
Contrary to the messages we are exposed to from popular culture, media, and public health about body size, focusing on how much a person weighs isn't necessarily an effective way to promote health. These messages play a role in reinforcing what some call “diet culture” and others have called “anti-fat bias.” Diet culture associates weight loss and thinness with health despite mounting evidence of the negative impacts of dieting. Anti-fat bias can persist in workplace, healthcare, and educational settings, threatening both the emotional and physical health of obese or overweight individuals.
Research is showing that weight is not a reliable indicator of an individual's health nor is a weight-centric approach helpful in improving overall well-being. Weight-centric, or weight-normative, approaches emphasize weight, body mass index (BMI), and weight loss as positive indicators of health and well-being. This type of approach values thin body types over others and can have negative consequences such as weight stigmatization, discrimination, and body dissatisfaction; consequences that are associated with weight gain, unhealthy eating behaviors, and depression.
While some weight loss interventions may reduce weight or improve health metrics in the short term, these interventions typically involve other behavioral changes such as increasing physical activity or changing eating patterns which make it difficult to attribute the cause of health improvements. Is the improvement in health due to the reduction in weight or to the increase in physical activity?
Also, while some people on weight loss diets lose weight in the first year, if followed for more than one year, people in peer-reviewed studies typically regain most of the weight back within the following five years. Repeatedly losing and regaining weight, or weight-cycling, increases the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure and is an independent risk factor for poor health outcomes, even in normal-weight individuals. Studies reveal that losing and regaining weight may be worse for a person's physical and psychological health than consistently staying at a higher weight.
Due to the issues with long-term ineffectiveness of weight-centric interventions, and increasing recognition of the relationship between racism and anti-fat bias, there is a need to shift focus to weight-inclusive or weight- neutral approaches. Weight-inclusive or weight-neutral approaches emphasize improving access to health promoting resources and reducing weight stigma. Studies have shown numerous health benefits, even in the absence of weight loss, are achievable and sustainable in the long-term using a weight-neutral approach.
One example of this approach includes Health at Every Size (HAES). HAES principles promote the acceptance of body diversity, intuitive eating not focused on weight control, support for policies that equalize access to resources, respectful care towards ending weight discrimination, and inclusive physical activity. Weight-inclusivity does not promote the message that everyone, in every body size, is healthy. What it does promote is that everyone, regardless of their body size, can be working on health-related goals without focusing on changing their body size.
Weight-inclusive approaches that are rooted in a social justice and systems-oriented framework can powerfully acknowledge the social and political roots of health inequities. To be most effective, and to avoid other forms of stigma or shame, these approaches should consider the influence of life factors such as poverty, discrimination, stigma, and job insecurity and how these factors constrain or support health behaviors and personal choice.
Research spanning the last decade has been showing that the HAES approach is associated with improvements in blood pressure, health behaviors, self-esteem, and body image and has done so more successfully than weight loss treatment. Further, studies show that interventions that encourage individuals to eat intuitively help participants abandon unhealthy weight control behaviors, improve metabolic fitness, increase body satisfaction, and improve psychological distress. Results from literature reviews favor the promotion of programs that emphasize a non-restrictive pattern of eating, body acceptance, and access to health promoting resources rather than weight loss.
There is a growing body of research showing that HAES and weight-inclusive approaches are better able to address overall health and wellness than focusing on BMI or weight reduction. Shifting focus away from weight loss, thinness, obesity prevention, and looking a certain way to achieve better health could potentially make us a healthier and more equitable society. Despite these movements being met with hesitation, weight-inclusive approaches have been demonstrated to be effective health promoting strategies.
Shifting the focus of health interventions away from losing weight as an end goal is not new and it doesn't even have to be that revolutionary. Many of the governmental recommendations to be physically active and follow a balanced diet following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that UC ANR nutrition programs and CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE programs teach in communities across California could be used in either a weight-centric or weight-inclusive approach. In our San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara county nutrition programs we have advocated for books to be removed from curricula if they promote anti-fat bias and have started making changes in how we talk about our work to prevent chronic disease and promote health instead of preventing obesity. Still, the idea of obesity and overweight as the central concern for public health and popular media has stayed with us longer than has proven necessary or effective for actually improving the health of individuals and society.
Do you have unconscious bias toward overweight or obese people? Consider taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test for Weight.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
The University of California Cooperative Extension and its community partners have received nearly $500,000 from the California Department of Food and Agriculture to expand farm to school projects. The CDFA Office of Farm to Fork's 2021 California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program has awarded $8.496 million in grants to 60 farm-to-school projects throughout the state, including the following two UC Cooperative Extension projects.
Tuolumne Agricultural Connections Project
UC Cooperative Extension in the Central Sierra received $248,457 to work on the “Tuolumne Agricultural Connections Project” with Jamestown Elementary School District, Office of Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools, Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office and local farmers.
UC Cooperative Extension Central Sierra will work with the sheriff's office to expand an existing farm education center on land owned by the county detention center, to provide educational opportunities for public school students and juvenile detention center students.
“We're really excited to offer more learning opportunities for young people in Tuolumne County,” said JoLynn Miller, director of UC Cooperative Extension in the Central Sierra. “At the farm, we will be able to teach students about growing food with hands-on activities and field trips and provide incarcerated residents with job training.”
UCCE and the Sheriff's Office plan to start a sustainable egg-laying operation to supply public schools and other public institutions with locally produced eggs. At the juvenile detention center, UCCE will provide monthly gardening and cooking lessons to juveniles. UCCE also will support school gardens through the School Garden Network and expand Harvest of the Month education and tastings to more public schools and to the juvenile detention center. School food service directors will get help increasing procurement of California-grown foods for their menus to reinforce the Harvest of the Month education. Through Kids' Day at the Market events, they plan to introduce public school students to farmers markets as places to buy healthy foods.
Local sourcing of food across Los Angeles
In Los Angeles County, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College received a $250,000 grant. Occidental College is partnering with Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Office of Education, Adventist Health Glendale Foundation, Big Green, Enrich LA, Garden School Foundation, Los Angeles Food Policy Council, National Health Foundation, Sage Garden Project, Seeds to Plate, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles and UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County.
The “Farm to Classroom: Sourcing Local for Farm to School Education Across Los Angeles” project will help farm-to-school educators purchase fresh produce from local farmers markets for in-class taste tests, garden lessons and recipe demonstrations. They will also offer teachers farm-to-classroom educational materials on food systems, farmers and agriculture, featured produce items and nutrition.
"We are thrilled and excited to be a partner on the project,” said Keith Nathaniel, UCCE director and 4-H youth development advisor in Los Angeles County. “Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County is poised to provide quality educational materials that support the farm to school learning continuum for young people. Cooperative Extension will continue to build on its expertise to develop relevant impactful materials designed to engage learners to meet their educational outcomes."
A “Los Angeles Harvest of the Month” calendar will be designed for Los Angeles Unified Food Services and be available to others in Los Angeles County to use. The calendar will feature local produce items that are highlighted in the educational materials and available to buy through a purchasing app. Coordination between school food services and teachers will help Los Angeles Unified align their lessons and garden planting schedules with foods offered in the cafeteria. The project team plans to launch a pilot of the program at select Title 1 schools, then analyze evaluation data from the pilot program and modify the program model as needed before sharing it with farm to school educators across LA County and offering an accompanying training.
The California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program focuses on supporting local and regional farm to school projects that promote nutrition education, sustainable food production and procurement, and high-quality student engagement through experiential learning.
- Author: Deepa Srinivasan
- Contributor: Mariana Lopez
Lin Fraker graduated from the Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program in Tulare County after completing the four-week virtual curriculum, UCCE Connects 2U. Online classes were led by Mariana Lopez, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educator.
After participating in the plan, shop and save lesson in the second class,Fraker shared that she had made a grocery list and found that it helped her save money when she went grocery shopping. She had never made a list before, and when she planned her week's menu and made a grocery list, she saw that her usual bill of almost $200 per shopping trip went down to $89! Even making small changes in grocery shopping practices can make a big impact.
In the video below, Lopez converses with Fraker, who expresses her enthusiasm for the EFNEP class in Tulare County and wants to share the information with her mother-in-law to improve her health.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
As a child, Sandra Bonilla had a strong connection with the natural world, however, when she grew up and began introducing people of color from Southern California's poorest neighborhoods to local mountains and forests, she said they felt marginalized.
“Almost immediately I saw the outdoor showcased as place for white privilege families, and those of us with colorful backgrounds were not welcomed,” Bonilla said. “As time went on, I realized that my own people were no longer being connected to nature and that our youth had no idea what was camping, or hiking or just enjoying the flight of birds through the top of Jeffrey Pines.”
Bonilla founded the Southern California Mountains Foundation Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire. The program offers young men and women paid work in environmental conservation on meaningful projects where they develop skills that increase job readiness.
To further enhance the educational aspect of the program, the conservation corps partnered with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) California Naturalist and 4-H Youth Development programs to train a group of corps members to become certified naturalists as part of a unique cohort called Los Naturalistas.
With funding from the National Forest Foundation, UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development advisor Claudia Diaz Carrasco and conservation corps staff members Gaby Nunez and Lizzet Pineda met with the cohort every Saturday for four months to coordinate presentations by the U.S. Forest Service, CalFire and other professionals and to cultivate an appreciation for the beautiful natural resources that surround their community. The group also gathered for weekly cafecitos, early morning study sessions that helped all the participants get through the training materials together.
Translated materials, creative teaching methods, a diverse expert speaker pool, and incorporation of the strengths the students bring to the table ensured that the cohort received training that was culturally relevant. All 12 emerged as Los Naturalistas, ready to make positive changes in environmental justice and access to public spaces for their communities through nature and Spanish-language interpretation.
“I give thanks to people such as Fabian Garcia, USDA Forest Service; Henry Herrera, CalFire; and Claudia Diaz, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, who are making new career pathways for Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans and are ensuring that programs such as Los Naturalistas are changing the color of green outdoor spaces,” Bonilla said.
Diaz Carrasco's involvement in the movement was sparked by an early-career research project funded by UC ANR to identify the most effective ways to reach Latinx communities.
“We found out it's best to go through organizations that are already connected with youth and families,” Diaz Carrasco said.
To learn how to encourage families and youth to participate, engage and stay involved over time, she interviewed leaders of organizations serving this population.
“We were able to identify 25 guiding principles for successful engagement with Latinx families and youth,” she said. “Things like creating a positive ethnic identity, responding to economic poverty, including families and communities, and recruiting culture brokers help build bridges. A lot of these concepts guided the development of Los Naturalistas.”
(For more on the guiding principles for reaching and engaging Latinx youth in youth development, see https://jyd.pitt.edu/ojs/jyd/article/view/19-14-02-FA-03)
The Southern California Mountains Foundation Urban Conservation Corps was a natural partner. They had a diverse corps membership and sought educational opportunities to complement the job skills their corps were gaining through field work.
“Los Naturalistas is a college-level course. You need to do the homework. You need to do the reading. When they get their certification, the participants learn that they can be successful in a college course,” Diaz Carrasco said.
With renewed confidence, the newly minted Naturalistas are encouraged to complete their high school diplomas and enroll in community college classes. They are also charged with completing volunteer time in natural stewardship, education and service. One way they can do that is by sharing their experiences and offering nature instruction to younger members of their communities.
“Instead of me directly reaching the youth, I was able to train corps members to generate interest in California's natural world and the career opportunities available to people who pursue an education. The crew is helping me hit my target audiences,” Diaz Carrasco said. “Part of my work in UC ANR is to mix science and culture. If don't do this work, there are few bilingual people who are able to teach this.”
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in the present moment and accepting it without judgement. Benefits include reduced stress, better concentration, less depression and anxiety and a stronger immune system.
Even before the pandemic, the UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Healthy Living leadership team – Anne Iaccopucci, UCCE Healthy Living academic coordinator; Dorina Espinoza, youth, families and communities (YFC) advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties; and Marcel Horowitz, UCCE healthy youth, families and communities advisor in Yolo County – recognized that youth appeared to be struggling with anxiety and emotional challenges. An examination of published research showed that youth programs were successfully using mindfulness practices to help young people who had developmental challenges or behavioral disturbances.
With mindfulness gaining greater mainstream interest, Iaccopucci joined with YFC advisor Katherine Soule, and University of New Hampshire, Durham, youth and family resiliency state specialist Kendra Lewis to investigate the use of mindfulness for growth and development in people without serious conditions, but struggling with challenges of modern life.
“The 4-H Healthy Living team wanted to make sure we were addressing the social-emotional development of young people, so we investigated how we can integrate mindfulness into our programs,” Iaccopucci said.
The team designed an annual weekend UC 4-H Mindfulness Retreat for youth and adults to build skills in mindfulness, stress management, relationship building and community connection. Three-day retreats were held over four consecutive years in Cambria, a peaceful beach community on California's Central Coast.
Lessons in yoga, art and nature exploration were combined with quiet reflection, socialization and emotional-regulation training led by experts with extensive knowledge in those mindfulness methods. “Hangout time” was electronics-free; participants were encouraged to spend time getting to know one another or practicing self-reflection.
A survey completed by participants at the end of the retreats helped leaders improve the activity year-to-year and gauge the program's success. Both youths and adults said they were satisfied with their experiences at the retreat, wanted to participate again and would recommend the experience to others, the retreat team reported in the August 2020 issue of the Journal of Extension.
As part of the completion survey, the youths and adults were asked to provide examples of how their new skills and knowledge in mindfulness can be applied in their daily lives, how it can be applied in 4-H, what they liked best and what they would change.
One youth mentioned, “Giving skills back to my 4-H club, or when I am stressed, going back to what I learned.” An adult said, “More present for my family. I will be more mindful in my daily life! Take at least 6 deep breaths in my daily life or day to day.”
One youth said, “I can pass my new knowledge down to the youth in my county or across the state.”
Another youth wrote that the best part was, “Learning how to stay calm and having fun.”
To read the full report on the retreats, see Engaging Teens and Adults in Mindfulness: The University of California 4-H Mindfulness Retreat.
Hosting a mindfulness retreat is a vast undertaking that may not be practical for individual 4-H clubs or other youth groups. To extend the benefits of mindfulness to more youth across California and the nation, the Healthy Living Team developed curricula that can be used by 4-H clubs and other youth-serving organizations – such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Boys' and Girls' Clubs, etc.
For example, one lesson focuses on naming and describing feelings. The lesson explains that feelings – such as happy and sad – visit for a time like houseguests, and centers on a book called “Visiting Feelings” by Lauren Rubenstein. The author suggests that feelings should be viewed with “wide open eyes.”
“Is it bright like the sun, dark like the rain, or is it a look you can't even explain?” says the text. “If you listen to what your body can say, you'll find that your feelings are really OK.”
Each lesson includes a connected activity. For naming and describing feelings, the children can choose a feeling to explore, write it down and draw what the feeling looks like – a prickly plant, a bouncy ball, a present?
The curriculum is available on the Shop4-H.org website for $39.95. Videos were created to accompany the curriculum and are available on the eXtension website with the purchase of the curriculum. (Visit https://campus.extension.org/enrol/index.php?id=1839, create and account and use the enrollment code California to view the videos.)
The curriculum is available on the Shop4-H.org website for $39.95.
A three-page 4-H Mindfulness Project guide is available for free download. The guide is designed for 4-H Clubs, but it is useful for any teacher or leader to share the benefits of mindfulness. Some suggested activities include creating a portfolio of favorite places that help the participants feel relaxed, start a gratitude journal to document the things they are grateful for, explore food using all five senses or host a self-reflective nature walk in the local community.
The publication also suggests how youth can develop leadership skills related to the mindfulness project by becoming a Healthy Living Officer, a junior or teen leader for a mindfulness project and plan and prepare a mindfulness exercise for a community club meeting.
To learn more about the 4-H Youth Development program in local communities across California, see http://4h.ucanr.edu/