1.8 M grant to promote healthy snacking

By Dick Mason, The Observer October 17, 2012 01:59 pm

Money will fund 4-year project that aims to instill nutritious eating habits in Union County youths

Many children and teenagers in Union County may soon stop reaching for candy bars when they need a snack and instead choose to eat fruit and granola bars low in sugar and fat.

Look for the snacking habits of many local children and teenagers to improve significantly thanks to a new program made possible by a four-year $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grant was recently received by the Oregon Health and Science University School of Nursing at EOU on behalf of the Union County Fit Kids Coalition. 

The grant will fund a research and education project named Students Now Advocating to Create (Healthy Snacking) Zones — SNACZ. The four-year project will prepare youth to work as community leaders and advocates to promote healthy snacking among their peers and in their schools and nearby food stores.

“We want to instill healthy eating habits,” said Nancy Findholt, an associate professor at the Oregon Health Science University School of Nursing at EOU and the lead investigator and researcher and author of the grant.

Findholt said a key to instilling healthy snacking habits in young people is making them understand that eating well is a popular trend. 

“There is a lot of peer pressure to choose bad foods,” Findholt said.

A primary element of the program will involve the creation of SNACZ 4-H clubs in the Cove, Elgin, Imbler, North Powder and Union school districts. Fourth- and fifth-graders joining the program this year will comprise the core of the SNACZ 4-H clubs the next four years.

The students will be encouraged to take steps that will support healthy snacking among peers and their parents, work for changes in school policies and practices to support healthy snacking, and collaborate with local food store owners to promote healthy snacks in their stores.

For example, schools may be encouraged to reward students for success not with ice cream parties and candy but with outdoor activities like hikes. Students may encourage store owners to carry more healthy snack foods such as fruit and vegetables and granola bars low in sugar and fat and to place these healthy foods in places that will heighten their visibility.

“We are hoping to make healthy food more accessible. If it is right there youths are more likely to choose it,” said Patty Herron of the Union County OSU Extension Service, who will be helping run the SNACZ program by working with the adult leaders of 4-H clubs.

Herron is working under Carole Smith, the administrator for the Union County OSU Extension Service. Smith will oversee the extension service’s involvement in the SNACZ project.

An immediate task is to develop a SNACZ logo. The logo will be placed in stores with healthy snack foods and drinks. This will allow youths to know that this food was selected as healthy by their friends in the SNACZ clubs. This knowledge may encourage them to try the food.

“Kids influence their peers better than we do,” Findholt said.

Each 4-H SNACZ club will have an adult leader and two high school students who will assist them. Those interested in joining SNACZ clubs or serving as a leader or as a high school student assistant should call Herron at 541-963-1010. 

“This is an opportunity to be a real leader in the community,” Findholt said. 

Participants in the SNACZ project will also be conducting research. Teachers at local schools will be surveyed to find out what types of snacks students bring to school and what kinds are available in classrooms. The same teachers will be surveyed over the next four years to determine if the quality of available snacks are improving.

Local food stores will also be surveyed to determine if the availability and visibility of healthy snacks improves. 

Members of the Union County Fit Kids Coalition who will be actively involved in the SNACZ project include the OHSU School of Nursing at EOU, the 4-H program at Oregon State University Union County Extension Service, the Union County Commission on Children and Families, Oregon Rural Action and the Cove, Imbler, Elgin, Union and North Powder school districts.

The La Grande School District, a member of the Union County Fit Kids Coalition, will not be involved with the SNACZ program because the National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant is only for small school districts in Union County. 

The SNACZ program will formally begin with a kickoff event Nov. 3 at the Union County Fairgrounds from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. People interested in signing up for the SNACZ project are encouraged to do so before the kickoff session.