Compared to other youth age groups, adolescents in particular have the lowest quality diets and the highest rates of obesity in the United States. Childhood and teen obesity has increased over the last several decades and rates are at an all-time high in the United States and California, specifically. As obesity in formative years progresses into adulthood, it is imperative that measures be taken to slow this trajectory.
This concern prompts the need for novel obesity prevention programs. One potential contributor is a lack of food literacy, which involves having the knowledge and skills necessary to make healthy dietary choices. However, programs aimed at improving food literacy in adolescents are lacking. Therefore, there is a need for development of an adolescent food literacy curriculum to complement obesity prevention programs in order to address adolescent obesity.
In 2011, a UCANR Competitive Grant funded the development of the Shaping Healthy Choices Program (SHCP), a multi-component nutrition program aimed at improving youth health outcomes and features the use of garden-enhanced curricula. The SHCP has been implemented in several counties across California, targeting 4th- through 6th-graders, resulting in improvements to BMI percentiles, vegetable consumption, and physical activity patterns. Thus, the Center for Nutrition in Schools (CNS), in partnership with UC ANR and UCCE, expanded the reach of the SHCP to teens in addition to younger youth.
While the project was well-received by participants and their parents, teen teachers were only able to deliver the lessons with 45% fidelity. This value is below the 80% goal established by previous studies. These results suggest that teen teachers need education in foundational concepts before they can effectively implement the SHCP. This provided the impetus for the development of a food literacy curriculum for teens. The new interactive hands-on curriculum, Teens CAN: Comprehensive Food Literacy in Cooking, Agriculture, and Nutrition, was developed to educate high school-aged adolescents in a variety of settings, including out-of-school programs such as 4-H. Through this curriculum, teens will explore food literacy by building skills and knowledge that will enable them to make healthy dietary choices to support their future health.