Building Tomorrow’s Leaders through Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR)

Image from YPar Project

The Issue
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.

The Payoff

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.

Clientele Testimonial

“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


Supporting Unit:

Brandon Louie, MS, Community Engagement Coordinator, UC Davis Center for Regional Change,

Metria Munyan, Youth Engagement – Project Manager, Public Health Institute, Center for Wellness and Nutrition,

Anne Iaccopucci, 4-H Healthy Living Academic Coordinator, UC ANR, Ca. State Office,

Andra Nicoli, MA, Program & Evaluation, UC CalFresh State Office,

RNECE Final Report

RNECE final report graphic

The Regional Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Centers of Excellence (RNECE) National Coordination Center at the University of Kentucky released their final RNECE report recently.  This report includes the RNECE recommendations for future work in nutrition education for limited resource families in the United States.  Each regional center also has a report provided.  Please visit the RNECE Final Report for the complete report. 

Highlighting Nutrition Education Programs in Schools

School based programming is a key opportunity to reach our target population in SNAP-Ed.  Two programs shared their Smarter Lunchrooms work.  Read more about their programs below:

Michigan State University

In 2016-2017, in partnership with Team Nutrition over 90 schools received the Smarter Lunchroom initiative. In addition, over 40 schools received the Fuel Up To Play 60 program in partnership with the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. Trained Michigan State University nutrition professionals provide support in completing the pre and post assessment for each initiative as well as the implementation of 10 Smarter Lunchroom scorecard items or a Healthy Eating and Physical Activity play for Fuel up to Play 60. Many of the schools are receiving Smarter Lunchroom, Fuel Up to Play 60 as well as direct education using Show Me Nutrition for a true educational experience!   For more information on the work at Michigan State University, contact Dawn Earnesty, MS RDN (

Fuel Up to Play 60 participants at MSU

Rutgers Cooperative Extension

Food waste is a major issue in the United States. Schools are one of the most important sites for food waste reduction efforts because they hold a daily captive audience that can be influenced to make better choices. Additionally the state recently passed a law aimed to reduce the amount of food waste in New Jersey by 50 percent by 2030. Through the training and technical assistance of the Family and Community Health Science Educators the Paterson Public School system reduced food waste by approximately 90,720 pounds district wide for the school year. Working with the food service.  For more information, contact Sara Elnakib, RD, MPH, CHES (

Smarter lunchrooms lunch line

Article Published in Journal of Society of Nutrition Education & Behavior (JNEB)

Providing nutrition education to participants


Three members of the Community Nutrition Education Community of Practice recently had an article published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB) in August 2016.  The article entitled What Does Evidence-Based Mean for Nutrition Educators? Best Practices for Choosing Nutrition Education Interventions Based on the Strength of the Evidence reviews current evidence to determine the likelihood that a given intervention produces the desired outcomes and how this evidence can be applied to nutrition education. 

To access the full journal article, click here.  

Georgians Have a New Learning Resource at the DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market

GA Mobile Farmers Markets

The University of Georgia Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (UGA SNAP-Ed) offers shortened free nutrition education classes in a series known as “Food Talk: Farmers Market.” Adapted from full-length “Food Talk” curricula by faculty and staff from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, Food Talk: Farmers Market nutrition education is a collection of short classes taught by UGA Extension staff at stops along the “FRESH on DEK” DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market route. 

“We are very excited to provide this new curriculum for our SNAP-Ed program in DeKalb County,” said Judy Hibbs, Nutrition Program Coordinator for UGA SNAP-Ed. “The Mobile Market is very popular in the community, and county staff are doing a great job of recruiting participants from shoppers and delivering sessions.”

The DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market provides access to healthy, affordable food at multiple stops in food deserts and low income communities throughout the county where fresh produce might be hard to come by. The Mobile Market accepts EBT (SNAP benefits), credit cards, checks, or cash and is a program of DeKalb County Extension. “The great part about our new curriculum is that it’s designed to be completed in a short amount of time,” Hibbs added. “Shoppers at the Mobile Market don’t typically have as much time to spend learning as participants do in the full Food Talk class, so people can still learn something even when they’re in a rush.”

Food Talk: Farmers Market offers eight lessons that are taught by SNAP-Ed peer educators and cover topics like how to make healthy choices when dining out; adapt traditional Southern recipes to reduce sodium and increase vegetable servings; and how to plan meals and shopping trips to save money.  Participants can take different classes at the same location on different weeks or visit multiple Mobile Market sites to benefit from each lesson.  “Food Talk: Farmers Market has been a tremendous addition to the Mobile Market this season,” said  Edda Z. Cotto-Rivera, County Extension Agent for SNAP-Ed. “These programs are making real differences in people’s lives, and participants have shown great enthusiasm for what they are learning.”

UGA SNAP-Ed is building upon the existing Food Talk lessons to include topics on obesity in addition to adapting lessons for use at farmers markets and in an online course known as “Food eTalk.” Healthy Child Care Georgia, an additional project in UGA SNAP-Ed, is a multi-level Policy, Systems, and Environment (PSE) intervention for early care and education (ECE) centers being piloted in Athens-Clarke County.

“We have a great need for this type of program in the state of Georgia, and we have a capacity to meet that need,” said Jung Sun Lee, an associate professor in the department of foods and nutrition who serves as principal investigator for UGA SNAP-Ed.

Food Talk: Farmers Market is provided by UGA SNAP-Ed for SNAP-Ed eligible Georgians and classes are currently being offered only in DeKalb County. Those interested in attending a Food Talk: Farmers Market class may find how to contact the local UGA extension office at Visitors to the website may click the green “Attend a Class!” in the main navigation to find local contact information.


Tennessee Farmers Market


In Tennessee, a team of state specialists working with the University of Tennessee Extension SNAP-Ed: Tennessee Nutrition and Consumer Education (UT SNAP-Ed: TNCEP) program in the Department of Family and Consumers Sciences (FCS) have launched a state-wide social marketing program – Farmers’ Market Fresh.  The primary objective of Farmers’ Market Fresh is to encourage limited-resource families to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption through farmers’ markets.  

Throughout the summer, FCS County Agents, para-professionals, and assistants have booths at farmers’ markets where they offer food demonstrations, recipes, and research-based advice on best ways to select, prepare, and store some of our favorite summertime items.  The best part of the program – each person who stops by the booths receives a recipe card for the food being demonstrated.  At the end of the season, consumers could have an entire collection of recipes all featuring items fresh from the farmers’ market.  Adults, however, are not the only ones who learn from the Farmers’ Market Fresh booth.  Children enjoy a sample of the food prepared, and they are able to participate in a weekly children’s challenge.  Through the challenge, children are able to earn prizes for the fruits and vegetables their families purchase, prepare, and taste at home.  There is even some buzz that a special visitor – Rudy the Raccoon – makes an appearance at the markets.

During the pilot year (FY 2015), Farmers’ Market Fresh was implemented at 15 farmers’ markets.  A total of 121 food demonstrations were presented resulting in 29,071 educational contacts.  310,651 indirect contacts were made through exhibits, newspaper articles, publications, social media, and television segments.  As a result of the programming, fruit and vegetable consumption increased among the participants.  Additionally, SNAP redemption at the pilot markets increased by over $3,600.

Farmers’ Market Fresh is currently in its second year of implementation with programming occurring at 39 farmers’ markets across the state. 

WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program Providing Support at Farmers Markets

WVU Mom's Everyday video segment on WSAZ

WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program has been providing support to SNAP farmers markets throughout the state over the last 2 years. Many markets have received signage to attract SNAP customers and educators are working with markets to offer educational activities, cooking demonstrations, tasting opportunities and even have obtained grant funding to offer Double SNAP dollars. Efforts to attract SNAP customers to the markets continues to be a struggle but the WVU Family Nutrition Program are expanding their media campaign to include television.

As part of a contract with WSAZ, a local news station, Family Nutrition Program administrators and educators are teaming up to talk about the programs and services available to low income audiences through SNAP-Ed. On June 20, SNAP Coordinator, Kristin McCartney and health educator Jennifer Spriggel, offered a segment on farmers markets to an audience of over 50,000.  

Summer Feeding Programs in North Carolina

Summer Feeding Programs in North Carolina



The Alice Aycock Poe Center for Health Education is a non-profit SNAP Ed implementing agency dedicated to educating and empowering North Carolina’s children, youth and their families to make choices that increase positive health behaviors. Since establishing its Raleigh facility in 1991, the Poe Center has provided health education to over one million children throughout North Carolina.  

The Poe Center was Wake County Public School System’s first open summer feeding site for free, healthy lunches, and is partnering with Child Nutrition Services for the fourth year. Other agencies and community volunteers are getting on board and helping to attract more children and their families: Volunteer Zumba and Yoga instructors; Delta Dental; Muddy the Mudcat, mascot of our local minor league baseball team; Marbles Children’s Museum; and, NC State Mascots Mr. and Ms. Wuf are all graciously volunteering time and effort to enhance the Poe Center’s summer feeding program, encourage kids to follow MyPlate, and get their 60 minutes of physical activity a day.  During the summer of 2015 Poe served over 800 lunches on their PlayWELL Park. In the first two weeks of Poe’s 2016 Summer Feeding Program almost 200 children received a free lunch.

Additionally, this summer Poe Center staff and interns are partnering with other agencies to provide SNAP Ed and activities at other newly established Wake County open feeding sites.  Poe Center hopes to expand their SNAP Ed programming into other North Carolina counties summer feeding sites in 2017!