Volume 67, Issue 1, 2013
Hands-on learning: Healthier choices, better lives
Research and Review Articles
Approximately 25 million children in the United States are obese or at risk of becoming obese, with anticipated negative consequences for individual health as well as the nation's future health-care costs. Effective interventions to prevent obesity require more than educating individuals. To bring about change, we must deploy tactics at multiple levels, from community facilities like parks and bike paths to foods offered in schools. The Spectrum of Prevention proposed in 1999 by L. Cohen and S. Smith first described this approach. UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) has helped evaluate large-scale community-based obesity prevention programs and has experience aligning county nutrition programs with new dietary guidelines. This UCCE expertise enables UC to develop more effective obesity prevention strategies and to influence policy addressing childhood obesity. Notably, UCCE's expertise in nutrition and obesity prevention will be applied to implementing a new intervention program. The new program employs multiple components including UC Cooperative Extension materials and community networks and is designed to impact factors contributing to risk for childhood obesity.
Less than 11% of young school-aged children eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, despite abundant evidence that these foods protect against many types of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and when combined with other dietary changes can help protect against obesity. In 2005, California became the first state to address the availability of fresh and local produce in the federal School Breakfast Program through state funding. The California Fresh Start Program doubled the number of different fresh fruits offered to students. With the greater variety, the number of fresh fruit servings taken by students in the Fresh Start pilot program more than doubled. Evaluation of the program revealed many lessons, which are especially important now, as schools across the country prepare to increase the number of fruits and vegetables offered in the School Breakfast Program by or before July 2014 as mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Childhood obesity has multiple interrelated causes and so should be addressed with multiple interventions, including innovative nutrition education programs that encourage healthy lifestyle choices in children. Research indicates that garden-based nutrition education increases fruit and vegetable preferences and consumption in children. Additionally, many reports on Farm to School programs indicate they promote both increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and participation in the National School Lunch Program. Within California, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources plays a leadership role in school garden and Farm to School programs. We provide a relevant literature review and assess the role of UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in program implementation and assessment, including results from a survey of UCCE advisors and directors. All respondents reported implementation of garden-based nutrition education and Farm to School programs; however, evaluation occurred much less frequently.
In the last three decades, positive youth development has emerged as the new paradigm for youth-related research and programming. The literature provides strong evidence that high-quality youth programs can have positive and significant effects. Positive youth development is strongly associated with three outcomes of particular public significance: improved school achievement and graduation rates, decreased incidence of risk behaviors and increased sense of personal efficacy and empathy. A strong economic case could be built for increasing public investment in positive youth development programs. What is needed now is more and better data, and measurable goals at the state level.
More effective professional development can help 4-H volunteers address need for youth scientific literacy
Nonformal education programs like 4-H can help address the need to improve scientific literacy among K-12 youth in the United States. To accomplish this, however, it is imperative that adult volunteers who serve as 4-H science educators engage in effective professional development. Currently, most 4-H volunteers who lead science projects and activities with youth participate in professional development opportunities involving episodic workshops that are considered largely ineffective with regard to fostering meaningful change in educators' knowledge and skills. In contrast, professional development models that involve communities of practice (CoPs), whereby groups of educators work toward shared learning goals through authentic work, have been shown to be effective. Professional development models that utilize CoPs represent potential strategies to help meet the professional development needs of 4-H volunteers who implement science programming with youth. Further investigation of these models within the context of 4-H science is recommended.
The 4-H Youth Development Program can help address low levels of scientific literacy among K-12 youth in the United States by providing opportunities to learn science in out-of-school settings. To help ensure quality program delivery, effective professional development for adult volunteers who serve as 4-H science educators is essential. Lesson study, a constructivist-based professional development model, is one potential strategy to help meet this need. A sequential explanatory mixed-methods design was used to investigate the influence of lesson study on 4-H volunteers' science content and pedagogical knowledge. In mixed-methods research, both quantitative and qualitative data are collected and analyzed in an investigation. Survey data revealed improved understanding and use of subject matter knowledge among participants. Focus group interview data elaborated on participants' understanding and use of inquiry processes. Results from this study could benefit 4-H volunteers, other nonformal educators, and researchers.
Nitrogen fertilizer is an indispensable input to modern agriculture, but it also has been linked to environmental degradation and human health concerns. Recognition of these trade-offs has spurred debate over its use. However, data limitations and misinformation often constrain discussion, cooperative action and the development of solutions. To help inform the dialogue, we (1) evaluate existing data on nitrogen use, (2) estimate typical nitrogen fertilization rates for common crops, (3) analyze historical trends in nitrogen use, (4) compare typical nitrogen use to research-established guidelines and (5) identify cropping systems that have significant influence on the state’s nitrogen cycle. We conclude that a comprehensive grower self-monitoring system for nitrogen applications is required to improve nitrogen-use information and to better support evidence-based decision making. The discussion here presents a primer on the debate over nitrogen fertilizer use in California agriculture.
Editorial, News, Letters and Science Briefs
SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL (Online only): Bibliography of UC ANR research on the Healthy Families and Communities Strategic Initiative priorities
Note: The following partial bibliography includes more than 100 peer-reviewed articles published since 2009. Authored by UC ANR academics, these publications address one or more of the three priorities of the HFC strategic initiative: healthy living for obesity prevention, youth science literacy, and positive youth development. Such research informs UC Cooperative Extension teaching and extension programs across California communities.