UC Cooperative Extension focuses on youth health and science literacy
UC Cooperative Extension is launching a new effort to promote the physical, intellectual and emotional health of California's young people.
Called Healthy Families and Communities (HFC), this initiative addresses three critical challenges faced by children, teens and young adults in our state: childhood obesity, lack of science literacy and the need for positive development.
“Rather than concentrating on risky behaviors, the focus is on nurturing youth to help them reach their potential and strengthen their connections with the community,” says Dave Campbell, initiative leader.
Nearly a third of California's school-aged children are overweight or obese, and the state has the unfortunate distinction of leading the nation in obesity-related health care costs. “To effectively address obesity, we need to wed traditional nutrition education outreach with youth and community development,” Campbell says. “It's not enough to just educate individuals, you also need to address the social and built environment to see who has and who needs opportunities.”
California's science literacy ranking is also dismal, with only Mississippi scoring worse. “Addressing this is absolutely critical,” Campbell notes. “We need new scientists to retain our economic competitiveness, and the ability to recognize good science and think through problems systematically is also part of being a good citizen who can participate in the political discourse.”
Alarming statistics jumped out during the panel's research. High school dropout rates are high, and about one-sixth of 16 to 24 year olds are out of school and out of work. This has high social costs and is a missed opportunity to train a skilled workforce to replace people who are about to retire.
HFC has solicited proposals for studies on the initiative's three strands. Funded projects will be carried out through campus-county research and extension partnerships that assess the effectiveness of individual and community change strategies. These projects will build on existing UC research on school wellness policies, garden-based learning, farm-to-school programs, after school and nonformal education, and youth development. “We're connecting our work to key issues in California,” Campbell says.