Bringing healthy back

Font Size

Article body

If you are one of the 60,000 third graders and their parents who graduated from the Body Quest initiative in the past 10 years, you probably know that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon. So, when you look at the nutrition facts label on a can of soda and see that it contains 40 grams of sugar, you know one small can holds 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Body Quest is the flagship school-based obesity prevention initiative of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University SNAP-Ed. The goal of the SNAP-Ed grant can be simply stated, but not easily achieved—to increase the likelihood that people, especially those with limited resources, will make healthy choices and ultimately prevent obesity.

“SNAP-Ed is a longstanding federally funded grant through the USDA Food and Nutrition Services,” said Dr. Barb Struempler, program leader for Extension Nutrition Programs. “Although SNAP-Ed is a win-win for all Alabama citizens, it is especially impactful for those with limited resources. The statewide infrastructure of Alabama Extension allows SNAP-Ed to deliver multi-level obesity prevention initiatives in all of Alabama’s 67 counties. Our classrooms and laboratories are the places where people live, work, play, eat and shop.”

Research-based Education

For the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, education is our business. More than 30 SNAP-Ed county educators provide research-based nutrition and physical activity education to youth and adults. For example, Body Quest empowers 6,000 third-graders and their parents each year to make healthier choices.

During the 15-week intervention based on the experiential learning theory, 3rd graders learn through educator-led instruction and self-directed iPad app gaming. An annual statewide impact evaluation consistently finds that third-graders who participate in the program eat significantly more fruits and vegetables, drink significantly fewer sugary beverages and are significantly more physically active compared to before Body Quest and compared to control students who do not participate in Body Quest. Parents make positive changes in obesity prevention behaviors and the home environment. As one Body Quest parent said, “I enjoyed cooking new recipes with my son and learning how to get him to eat more vegetables.”

Social Marketing

SNAP-Ed extends beyond schools and into communities. Have you ever been driving down a road in Alabama and noticed the three brightly colored billboards reminding you to “Eat Better,” “Move More” or “Choose Water?” These billboards are the face of the SNAP-Ed social marketing initiative, Live Well Alabama.

Struempler, a professor in Auburn's College of Human Sciences, said the billboard campaign follows an evidence-based approach to ensure messages resonate. All messages and artwork are focus group tested. Billboard messages make more than 125 million impressions on Alabamians. Effects are measured with a cross-sectional phone survey. In 2018, respondents exposed to the campaign were more likely to take actions toward better health and reported significantly higher intakes of fruits and vegetables and water compared to those not exposed.

Live Well Alabama marketing efforts also provide health messages digitally to Alabamians in multiple ways every day, including social media, web-based educational content and text messaging.

Policy, Systems and Environmental Changes

SNAP-Ed nudges Alabamians to make healthier choices in many ways each day. In obesity prevention, a “nudge” is a subtle change in an environment or community that makes the healthy choice the easy choice.

In FY18, 33 SNAP-Ed educators fostered 250 improvements in 40 counties reaching 120,000 residents in local parks and trails, grocery and convenience stores, farmers markets, gardens, food banks and pantries, faith communities and schools.

SNAP-Ed educators are champions for health who collaborate with local partners. They use evidence-based strategies to conduct environmental assessments, increase access to healthy food and physical activities and evaluate the reach and impact of changes. For instance, when you visit the local convenience store, you may see healthier food choices available by the cash register such as a container of cut fruit chilling on ice. Perhaps your faith community has a new policy ensuring water is always available as an alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages at gatherings.

Dr. Paul Brown, Alabama Extension associate director, sums it up best. “Alabama Extension SNAP-Ed is uniquely positioned to advance the quality of life in Alabama. This statewide network of passionate nutrition educators is committed to improving communities for Alabamians, focusing on the hardest-to-reach.”

Widespread and lasting change is right around the corner. Improving healthy eating and physical activity behaviors of individuals and families and building partnerships to improve the health of communities are among key SNAP-Ed efforts to prevent obesity and make it easier for Alabamians to Live Well.

Join the movement. Follow @LiveWellAlabama on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest or text “LWA” to 555-888 for weekly texts.

  • $5.8 million in 2019 funding
  • more than 2/3 of Alabamians are obese or overweight
  • 13 countries have adult obesity greater than 40%
  • Alabama is the 6th poorest state in the U.S.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.