West Virginia University will help teens “Get Fruved” with the support of a $4.89 million grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The project, will implement a peer-led, train-the-trainer social marketing intervention to encourage teens to eat more fruits and vegetables to help prevent chronic disease including obesity in older adolescents and young adults.

Melissa Olfert, assistant professor of human nutrition and foods in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, will lead the Mountaineer efforts on the project in coordination with seven other state partners.

“The goal of our research is to develop a novel strategy to promote healthy behaviors associated with weight awareness in older adolescent populations,” Olfert explained. To reach this goal, a community-based participatory research approach will be used with partnerships among teens and young adults, graduate students, university researchers and faculty, along with members of WVU’s Collegiate 4-H chapter.

Additionally, the program will partner with campus student groups, not only those focusing on majors related to nutrition and health, but also such diverse areas as business, media, and the performing arts. Activities, campus events, and even art and campaign logos will all be developed and implemented by students.

“The peer-led, train-the-trainer intervention is an interactive, non-traditional social marketing, online media, and environmental change approach seeking to promote healthy behavior with communities of college and high school students,” Olfert said.

Specific health behaviors targeted include increasing intakes of fruits and vegetables, decreasing foods high in saturated fats and added sugars, managing stress, getting adequate sleep and increasing physical activity.

“Although these healthy behaviors are often targeted in other interventions, this project is unique in that it increases participant engagement through creative interactions, participant-created content, and incorporation of age-appropriate technology,” Olfert said. “It also incorporates social environments and peer-led strategies while simultaneously addressing changes in environments to support participant-driven behavior change efforts.”

The grant will allow students to first design obesity prevention programs for their fellow college students. Next, they will partner with high school 4-H teams to implement the programs at their schools and train more students. Later, the program may be expanded so that the high school students can work with local middle schoolers, and eventually the middle school children can help educate elementary school students.

Olfert describes the project as “community-based participatory research, or CBPR. One of the philosophical foundations of the project is that student participants are equal partners with the research team,” she said.

Students will have a crucial role in identifying problem areas, gathering and analyzing data, and creating solutions that will hopefully be most effective for people their own age. “The students are recognized as experts in their own right. This approach should result in more effective long-lasting, real-world obesity prevention solutions,” Olfert said.

The team members for this project are members of the NC 1193 multi-state research group. WVU, the University of Tennessee, the University of Florida, and South Dakota State University are serving as college-level treatment sites during the first three years of the project with control universities in New York, Maine, Alabama and Kansas. Expertise for scholars at the University of Rhode Island, Rutgers University, and the University of Florida are providing consultation support in behavior change interventions, academic course development, and Extension programming and partnership throughout the process.

NIFA made the award through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Childhood Obesity Prevention program. This year’s funding is focused on supporting research programs aimed at generating new knowledge of behavioral, social and/or environmental factors that influence childhood obesity. All projects funded this year were required to integrate all three functions of agriculture science: research, education and Extension. Award decisions were made through a competitive process based on scientific merit.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. For more information, visit www.nifa.usda.gov.



CONTACT: David Welsh, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
304.293.2394, David.Welsh@mail.wvu.edu

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