About the Healthy Communities Initiative
The focus of the Healthy Communities Initiative is to decrease disparities in food and nutrition related conditions and
diseases, food security, and food access. The research teams of this group address approaches to changing food related
behavior in populations and individuals, increasing access to healthy food in resource poor environments, and
investigating alternate approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of targeted conditions. Currently, the teams are
dedicated to explaining, preventing, and treating the high occurrence of food-related medical and social conditions using
community participatory research methods.
This initiative is designed as an inter- and cross-disciplinary from within the university and the community. Although
led by the Center and faculty in the Department of Medicine, faculty from the Departments of Kinesiology in the Neag
School of Education, Nutritional Sciences and Allied Health Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural
Resources, Oral Health and Diagnostic Sciences in the School of Dental Medicine, and Statistics in Liberal Arts and
Sciences provide leadership to the endeavor. Projects are organized under two research themes; those directed at
changing behavior in families and children and those working with the food system to increase access to healthy food
and increased food security.
Four core projects shape the Healthy Communities initiative: Three projects are funded by USDA and one by the Donaghue Foundation.
Additional grant funding is pending with USDA and NIH.
1. Integrated Obesity Program Grant.
(USDA-CSREES 7/1/08-6/30/11) Ann Ferris, PI, Michelle Pierce, Co-PI.
Sweetened beverages and over consumption of 100% fruit juice (SBC) add unneeded calories to diets of young
children, potentially leading to overweight. As children’s diets are extensions of their parents’ behaviors, we
propose to implement a nutrition education intervention based on the Information-Motivation-Behavioral Skills
(IMB) behavior change model using parents as the primary agent of change. This integrated project’s goals are to:
1) evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention for reducing SBC in minority preschool children from low-resource
families (research), 2) evaluate the integration of this research-based program in nutrition education activities
(extension), and 3). enhance undergraduate cultural competency through a service-learning program (education).
The proposed research uses a randomized control group design involving 20 parents of 3-5 year olds at 20 sites (n=400) over 3 years. We will randomly assign sites to two experimental conditions: 1) 10-week SBC education
intervention and 2) 10 week SBC-unrelated sham education control. Data collection for the two groups will be
conducted at baseline and 1 week and 6 months post-intervention. Measures to be collected include IMB survey, home beverage inventory, weekend food recall, and anthropometrics. Education programs will be available to all parents at sites through interactive display boards with 5-10 minute lessons. Each semester 8 students (n=32) will enroll in an experiential course aimed at increasing students’ cultural competency. For 10 weeks, students will attend classroom training and spend 2 hours twice a week at sites implementing the nutrition education program.
Since the start of the program on July, 1, 2008, we have developed the IMB questionnaire and the educational program, pilot tested all components of the projects, hired appropriate personnel, and pilot tested both treatments.
2. The Evaluation of the Healthy Retailer Program.
(Donaghue Foundation, 04/01/08-03/31/10) Ann Ferris, PI, Katie Martin, Co-PI.
The Center for Public Health and Health Policy (CPHHP) created a partnership with the Hartford Food System (HFS) to evaluate their Healthy Food Retailer Initiative. Through this initiative, HFS has recruited 40 corner stores in Hartford to shift a proportion of their shelf space allocated to snacks and soft drinks to regular groceries and healthier food items. The CPHHP is conducting a multi-phase, mixed methods research study to evaluate the University of Connecticut effectiveness and sustainability of the Initiative. We conducted qualitative research, including focus groups with customers and semi-structured interviews with store owners and food distributors to understand their perceptions of barriers involved with buying and selling healthy food. We are now conducting a longitudinal study comparing 30 stores that are participating in the Healthy Food Retailer Initiative with 30 control stores to measure changes to the store inventories and customer purchasing habits over one year. In winter 2009 we completed the baseline measures for the store inventories, and completed the second inventories in June 2009. In spring 2009 we recruited 400 customers to participate in the study, collected demographic data and food shopping data. In June 2009, we started the 3-month follow-up survey with customers. Results will be disseminated back to the HFS to help inform their
3. Higher Education Challenge Grant: Building Cultural Competence.
(USDA, 06/05/05– 9/30/09). A. Ferris, PI, M. Pierce, Co-PI.
Initiative, and to the larger national network of healthy corner store initiatives.
The objective of this project was to evaluate impacts on students enrolled in a third tier service-learning course promoting leadership, cultural competence, and civic responsibility. For 4 semesters, we implemented a structured service-learning course for undergraduates focusing on childhood obesity prevention. In addition to class expectations, students worked with low-income, minority children in urban, after-school programs. We assessed student outcomes pre- and post- with qualitative measures: focus groups and reflection assignments and quantitative, validated instruments: the Cross-Cultural Adaptability Inventory (CCAI; Kelley, C & Meyers, J) and the Student Leadership Practices Inventory (SL; Kouzes, J & Posner, B).
4. Evidenced- based nutrition education practice.(USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Annually funded since 1995; 10/01/07-09/30/09) A. Ferris, PI
The Husky programs are primarily located in 52 sites in Hartford and Willimantic and reached 23,060 participants directly and 21,414 participants indirectly in 2008-09. Dr. Ann Ferris, Codirector of CPHHP, Dr. Jennifer Bruening from Kinesiology in the Neag School of Education, and Dr. Michelle Pierce from the Division of Public Health and Population Sciences, in the Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, head these service learning programs. These programs, primarily supported through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and private donations, obtain supportive funding (Appendix 5) from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Neag School of Education, the Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy, and the Division of Student Affairs and Athletics.
Husky Reads (S. Furbish, Program Manager) follows the Reach and Read Model. Undergraduate students read nutrition-themed books and play nutrition-themed games to promote healthy nutrition habits and literacy with children in pediatric clinic waiting rooms. While playing and reading to the children, parents are also receiving the message that nutrition is important beginning at a young age.
Husky Nutrition (S. Furbish, Program manager) provides food exploration for children in preschool classes with the goal of increasing their acceptance of food diversity through hands-on learning. Husky Nutrition offers older children in after-school programs complete cooking classes. This program teaches healthy food alternatives while simultaneously building self-care habits and self-esteem.
Husky Byte (M. Pierce, Co –PI) offers brief, interactive activities for all ages presenting “sound bites” of nutrition information in agencies, clinics, and schools. The sessions can be offered singly or in a series. The innovative program considers time constraints, employs principles of adult learning theory, addresses diverse learning styles, and is easily accessible.
Husky Sport (J. Bruening, Co-PI) encourages a healthy lifestyle, including promotion of physical activity and eating habits through school physical education classes, after-school and Saturday programs. Husky Sport takes a holistic and individualized approach with each child to address their unique needs.
The Senior Nutrition Awareness Program (SNAP) (S. Beeman, Co-PI) targets older adults who are eligible for or who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. The Senior Nutrition Awareness Program (SNAP) is located at the Norwich Cooperative Extension office. New support from the CT Department of Social Services, Division of Aging will work on training and program development with the Area Council on Aging sites across the state.