Engaging Youth to Increase Positive Social Determinants of Health in School Communities

The Issue

Addressing the social determinants of health - such as social and economic opportunities, high-quality education, and access to nutritious food - was identified in Healthy People 2020 as a priority for improving the nation’s health. Differences in social determinants are major contributors to health disparities among communities. Environmental factors, including adverse experiences and economic stresses, have been found to disrupt adolescents’ social-emotional foundation and can impact their future wellbeing. Conversely, successful implementation of youth engagement strategies can increase adolescents’ positive social and emotional development; leadership, problem-solving, and decision making skills; a sense of belonging; and a sense of purpose, while decreasing adolescent engagement in high-risk behaviors. Engaging adolescents in identifying and addressing the social determinants of health in their communities can have a compounding impact on adolescent and community wellness.

What Has ANR Done?

To create opportunities for youth to impact positive change in their communities, the Youth, Families, & Communities Program of Santa Barbara County paired existing UC CalFresh Nutrition Education programming with new 4-H Youth Development Programming (YDP) in schools. The objectives of this project were to 1) cultivate youth in historically underserved communities to become leaders for health, while 2) developing scalable, transdisciplinary programming that can become a model for Cooperative Extension across the nation. Adult allies are trained to prepare youth to be leaders and advocates through the development of knowledge, skills, and partnerships to increase access to positive social determinants of health in their communities. The programming was piloted in three schools communities in Santa Maria, CA, which have over 92% Hispanic/Latino students and more than 90% of the students are from low-income families (based on qualification for the Free and Reduced School Meal Program).

The Payoff

Students became leaders in health and nutrition

In total this programming reached more than 2,300 youth from low-income families and initiated three new in-school 4-H clubs with 1,696 group-enrolled and 47 individually-enrolled members. At the end of the school year, over 90% of youth participants surveyed agreed that as a result of the programming, they learned why it is important to eat a healthy diet and how to make healthy food choices. Student leaders collectively engaged in over 600 hours of 4-H youth development programming, including participating on the District Wellness Committee and completing training in nutrition, cooking, leadership, and presentation skills. Student leaders conducted food demonstrations, family education, and physical activity lessons with their peers and community members and produced and acted in Get to Know Your Salad Bar! (link:http://articles.extension.org/pages/73810/get-to-know-your-salad-bar-video). The video teaches peers across the country strategies for increasing salad bar use. This transdisciplinary program models the success of 4-H SNAC Clubs in California and may influence programming across the nation.


Supporting Unit: Santa Barbara County

Shannon Klisch, M.P.H., Community Education Supervisor (805) 781-5951, sklisch@ucanr.edu; Katherine E. Soule, Ph.D., Youth, Families, & Communities Advisor, San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara Counties