Eat Your Way to Better Health is a multisensory educational program established to reconnect youth with their food by having them grow and taste produce in an effort to provide education about healthy eating and increase fruit and vegetable consumption. The program was implemented as an authentic experiential learning garden-based school nutrition program offered in third-grade classrooms across Indiana through a collaborative effort between a land-grant university, county extension educators, school principals, and elementary teachers. Third-grade classrooms were targeted due to this stage of childhood being a crucial time for developing lifelong nutritional behaviors and minimizing the risk of adult diet-related diseases (Dzewaltowski et al., 2002; Taylor et al., 2005). Programming was made possible by grant funding from the state department of health. Goals for the program were to have youth learn about and taste a variety of fruits and vegetables, start and maintain their own classroom gardens, and engage students’ parents and guardians in a dialogue about healthy eating and nutrition. A unique attribute of EYWTBH is that these goals were addressed by an integrated three-pronged outreach effort: disseminating classroom lessons and activities, starting and maintaining a school garden, and providing take-home materials for students’ parents and guardians. EYWTBH curriculum was adapted from the Junior Master Gardener® program developed by Texas A&M University (Junior Master Gardener, 2014). County extension educators partnered with school principals and elementary teachers to deliver 1 h of instruction per week for 6–10 weeks (length of program depended on localized factors) using curriculum and resources supplied by the university EYWTBH team.
EYWTBH was offered through extension because of the university’s local presence in every county in the state. Extension can play a crucial role in addressing critical systemic issues in the surrounding community by being a trustworthy source of information (Awa and Van Crowder, 1978; Smith et al., 2012) and facilitating collaborative and interdisciplinary projects. Food illiteracy is an example of a critical systemic issue that occurs when citizens and youth in local communities do not understand enough about the food system to make healthy food choices. One way this disconnect can manifest itself is through low levels of fruit and vegetable consumption that result in unhealthy eating habits and lead to an increased risk of developing obesity. These issues are present throughout the general population, especially concerning is the prevalence of these unhealthy trends in youth. In the United States, the adult obesity rate is 34.9% and the youth obesity rate is 16.9% (Ogden et al., 2014). As such, adults report eating a median of 1.1 servings of fruit and 1.6 servings of vegetables per day (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Those data, along with a presence in the literature of a correlation between parental/guardian with that of peer and youth consumption of fruits and vegetables (Benton, 2004; Blanchette and Brug, 2005; Boutelle et al., 2007; Bower and Sandall, 2002; Brug et al., 2008; Johnson et al., 2007; Libman, 2007; Nanney et al., 2007; Robinson-O’Brien et al., 2009; Scaglioni et al., 2008), show that low levels of fruit and vegetable consumption is a multifaceted issue that requires an integrated solution of local community educators.
The EYWTBH program development, implementation, and evaluation were informed by social cognitive theory [SCT (Bandura, 1986, 1989)]. Bandura posited that behaviors are influenced by personal and environmental factors. While SCT views knowledge as a personal factor and something that can be transferred by social means, Bandura adds that behavior is mediated by self-efficacy, or one’s self-confidence to perform the behavior. Self-efficacy is critical to the point that even if a person has the ability necessary to perform a behavior, if he or she does not think he or she can perform the behavior, it is likely to not occur.
The purpose of this study was to describe differences between pre- and postprogram outcomes, as well as any personal and environmental factors that may be related to the postprogram youth fruit and vegetable consumption outcome. There were two research objectives: 1) determine if youth participants reported higher levels of fruit and vegetable consumption upon completion of the EYWTBH program and 2) determine if selected variables (i.e., youth preprogram fruit and vegetable consumption; postprogram youth healthy food choice self-efficacy, interest/preferences in fruits and vegetables as a snack, and healthy food social intentions; family postprogram fruit and vegetable consumption; household postprogram fruit and vegetable availability) were related with postprogram youth fruit and vegetable consumption.
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