Youth live, play, eat, shop, and learn in their communities but are rarely included in decision making processes that directly impact their health and nutrition, such as related school district policy-making, neighborhood design, food access, and advertising placement. Engaging and building the capabilities of youth as leaders is an important step toward effective policy, systems and environmental (PSE) changes.
What Has UC CalFresh Done?
UC CalFresh’s Youth Engagement Initiative, launched in 2016, gets youth involved in promoting healthy nutrition and physical activity. To facilitate youth participation in PSE changes, El Dorado, San Mateo, and Imperial County initiated Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) projects during the 2016-2017 school year. YPAR engages young people in research and action that builds their skills and fosters strong, just communities and institutions.
Each county team pursued a unique strategy based on local youth interests and opportunities:
- In El Dorado County, a PhotoVoice and YPAR project with Georgetown Elementary School sixth graders focused on improving nutrition by purchasing a healthy vending machine.
- In Imperial County, an afterschool YPAR project at Meadows Union Elementary School focused on expanding physical activity opportunities for 6th-8th graders.
- In San Mateo County, an in-school YPAR project with Pescadero High School students worked to improve the school meals program and communication between students and decision-makers.
The UC Davis Center for Regional Change and the Public Health Institute Center for Wellness and Nutrition provided ongoing technical assistance and program documentation. Support included in-person trainings, one-on-one coaching, and resources to assist youth to use mapping tools and data to identify needs and build their cases for PSE changes.
YPAR helped youth build leadership skills to create change in their communities.
Through YPAR, the counties combined direct nutrition education with PSE change, built and leveraged local partnerships, empowered young people to take on leadership for youth health, and helped youth develop research and presentation skills.
- In San Mateo County, students surveyed their peers and advocated to add smoothies to the lunch menus. After presentations to school and district officials, their peers, and attendees at the Childhood Obesity Conference, their recommendations were implemented in May 2017.
- In Imperial County, students met after school and mapped out their school resources, surveyed their peers, and analyzed publically-available physical fitness and obesity data for the school to advocate for new physical activity equipment and approval of a playground stencil project. After presentations to school and district officials and their peers, their recommendations were approved.
- In El Dorado County, students researched options for purchasing a healthy vending machine. They presented their findings to the principal, food services staff, teachers and their peers. This project will continue with a new cohort of youth next year.
To read more about these YPAR projects, please see Moving from Serving Youth to Engaging Youth, which documents the counties’ work.
“I got involved with the Youth Food Alliance because they were serving healthy food; I stayed involved because I was making the community healthier.” – Youth Researcher
Brandon Louie, MS, Community Engagement Coordinator, UC Davis Center for Regional Change, firstname.lastname@example.org
Metria Munyan, Youth Engagement – Project Manager, Public Health Institute, Center for Wellness and Nutrition, Metria.Munyan@wellness.phi.org
Anne Iaccopucci, 4-H Healthy Living Academic Coordinator, UC ANR, Ca. State Office, email@example.com
Andra Nicoli, MA, Program & Evaluation, UC CalFresh State Office, firstname.lastname@example.org