USDA Tours National Health Foundation’s Successful Youth-Led Health Academy Programs

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Administrator Audrey Rowe met with youth and leadership of the National Health Foundation’s (NHF) innovative youth-led Health Academy program to highlight successful implementation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program –Education (SNAP-Ed) funded Champions for Change grant, administered locally by the Los Angeles County Public Health Department.  The goal of SNAP-Ed is to improve the likelihood that persons eligible for SNAP will make healthy food choices within a limited budget and choose physically active lifestyles.

The Health Academy, a youth-driven nutrition education and obesity prevention program, has been an opportunity for youth at Thomas Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles to create and implement upstream interventions to improve the health of their community. The focus of Rowe’s visit will be the following Health Academy successes: The Mini Farm-Stand/Breakfast in the Classroom food waste abatement project, the school cafeteria makeover and the Healthy Marketing and Product placement corner store makeover projects. “We are honored to have been a part of Administrator Rowe’s visit to southern California. The youth involved in Health Academy have impacted the health of their community in tangible ways that are rippling out beyond the school’s walls. The enthusiasm of the Health Academy students is touching families and friends and creating a veritable shift in consciousness around what constitutes health,” shared NHF President and CEO Kelly Bruno.

About the Health Academy Projects  The Mini Farm-Stand project was designed by students to provide classmates access to healthy snacks while curbing food waste. Students placed attractive baskets in pilot classrooms and filled them with the fruit and foods left over from the Breakfast in the Classroom program. Typically, these foods would have been discarded, however, by placing them in the Farm-Stand baskets, students were able to simply take a piece of fruit at any time in the day, as needed. The results of the pilot were remarkable. Food waste was significantly reduced and students greatly appreciated having access to healthy options to the typical snack bar and vending machine fare offered between school meals. The Mini Farm-Stand project has been expanded through two Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools and is recognized as a potential model for district-wide implementation.

Students in the Health Academy also tackled the issue of low participation in the school lunch program. The youth polled their fellow students and learned that the layout and appearance of the cafeteria was not conducive to purchasing and consuming a meal in the allotted 30-minute lunch break and that many students were consuming snack foods for lunch rather than tackle the lunch lines. With a few minor tweaks to the layout and a creative point-of-purchase marketing scheme complete with posters touting the value of school lunches, the youth were able to significantly increase participation in the school lunch program.

The Health Academy youth shifted their attention to the community around their school and have begun to offer local merchants ‘Store Makeovers’. Recognizing that South Los Angeles, with its high number of fast-food restaurants and liquor stores constitutes a food desert, the students set out to make fresh produce and water available at the corner stores closest to their school. Students worked with Mercado Garibaldi owner, Joel, to increase the visibility of bottled water as an option to sugary beverages, and they worked with La Favorita owner, Carlos, to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Both retailers embraced the changes and the energy of the students and plan to continue offering healthy options year-around.