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Researchers Seek New Nutrition Norms

How can we get healthy food within everyone's reach? How can we get children and adults alike to choose healthy foods? These are among the questions the CDC-funded Prevention Research Centers (PRCs) explore as they strive to make nutritious food the norm in schools, homes, after-school programs, stores, and communities throughout the country. By working with public health partners in all of these settings, the PRCs conduct research to test health promotion strategies and help package the most effective ones for wide-scale use.

Photo: A young man eating his healthy lunchStart Right: Strategies for Early Childhood

Nearly one-third [PDF - 1.51MB] of children in low-income households are obese or overweight before 5 years of age, and the health consequences are both immediate and long term. Good habits set early in life can help prevent a lifelong struggle with weight and decrease the risks for diabetes, heart disease, and breathing problems.

Solutions in North Carolina and Ohio:

  • NAP SACC, or Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care, derives from research by the PRC at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This intervention enables child care staff to assess the food and physical activity environment at their facility, then develop and put an improvement plan into practice. Materials and training are made available through a web-based resource.
  • Now in its 3rd year, the PRC at Ohio State University is surveying parents of preschool-aged children in Columbus, Ohio. The parents tell about the everyday stresses that challenge their ability to instill and support healthy eating habits in their children. The researchers identify the interventions and encouragements that can have the greatest impact on developing those habits.

Photo: boy and girl holding fresh produceLearn New Approaches: Strategies for the School Years

Approximately 55 million children are enrolled in U.S. schools, and many eat and drink meals and snacks there. Afterschool programs offer food and beverages to more than 8 million U.S. children every year. Policies and practices on nutrition in school and afterschool settings can have a profound effect on the health of future generations.

Solutions in California, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Arkansas:

  • Results from a pilot test of SNaX (Students for Nutrition and Exercise), a curriculum developed by the PRC at the University of California at Los Angeles, were so compelling that, for the 2008–2009 school year, officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District decided to spend $7 million to offer students the fruits found to be popular in the study. Now the researchers are improving the curriculum that influences what students eat from the school cafeteria, school stores, and beyond. An expanded curriculum called P-SNaX helps parents encourage their children's healthy habits outside of school.
  • In December 2011, the YMCA of the USA pledged that, by 2015, 85% of YMCA Associations would adopt physical activity and healthy eating standards for their early childhood and afterschool programs. These standards are based on work by the Harvard University PRC and YMCA partners in Massachusetts. The food-related standards promote fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain products, and water, and discourage drinking sugary beverages and eating foods containing trans fats and processed grains.

For more examples

  • Learn about the University of Colorado Denver PRC's research to improve middle-school environments and policies in a rural part of the state.
  • Read about the Arkansas PRC's study to engage families in schools' fight against childhood obesity in five counties of the Mississippi Delta region of Arkansas.

Photo: A family preparing a mealExtend Healthy Habits: Strategies for Communities

Many environmental factors contribute to our nation's high prevalence of obesity and overweight. For example, in both rural areas and inner cities, people often find it easier and less expensive to purchase high-calorie processed foods than fresh fruits and vegetables. Macro-level changes are needed so that residents who want healthy foods have easy access to them close to home.

Solutions in Ohio, Texas, and Louisiana:

  • In its FreshLink project, the Case Western Reserve University PRC collaborates with inner-city neighborhoods in Cleveland, Ohio, on structural and economic changes to food distribution systems and land-use policies. The partners research how these neighborhoods can use food cooperatives and community gardens to produce fruits and vegetables that corner stores can afford to purchase and, in turn, sell to residents at affordable prices.
  • At the Texas A&M Health Science Center's PRC, researchers are working with rural communities in south and east-central Texas to assess food distribution systems (e.g., stores, charities, farmers' markets, schools) and then using the findings in developing policies to promote and enable healthy eating.
  • As part of its research to improve food choices at corner stores, the Tulane University PRC works to disseminate the New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee's recommendations to local policy makers on regulatory barriers, security and transportation issues, and grant and loan programs. As a member of a state healthy food retail study group, the PRC spearheaded a report outlining recommendations for a Healthy Food Retail Financing Program [PDF - 437KB]. In 2009, the state senate enacted legislation to establish a program that follows those recommendations.

Photo: mother and daughter cutting up fruits and vegetablesFind the Best Solutions: Prevention Research Centers

The Prevention Research Centers Program is a network of academic, community, and public health partners that conducts applied public health research to promote health and prevent disease. Congress authorized the program in 1984, and the first 3 centers were funded 2 years later. Today 37 centers, including 5 in a developmental stage, are located in 27 states, and they reach nearly 30 million people in 103 partner communities. PRCs work with vulnerable communities where the mean per capita income is one-third lower than the U.S. average. Information about their achievements and work in progress is available on the program's website.

  • Page last reviewed: March 12, 2012
  • Page last updated: March 12, 2012
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
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