Making Healthy Eating Fun One Bite at a Time
FLORIDA PREVENTION RESEARCH CENTER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA
Public Health Problem
Pinellas County is located along the Gulf of Mexico in central Florida. Up to one-third of preschoolers and one-third of high school students in the county have overweight or obesity.1 These rates are higher than the national average.
Childhood obesity can lead to short- and long-term health problems. The condition is associated with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. In addition, social problems such as bullying and stigma can lead to obesity as an adult.2 Obesity in both children and adults also increases the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems like asthma and sleep apnea, joint problems, and gallstones.2
Pinellas County reached out to the Florida Prevention Research Center (FPRC) at the University of South Florida for help.
In 2015, FPRC collaborated with the Healthy Pinellas Consortium (HPC), a group of representatives from community-based organizations, health care systems, and municipalities created by the Florida Health Department to address the high rates of obesity among children in their county. Together, they adopted an evidence-based youth initiative called Fun Bites that makes healthy snacks more accessible at recreational facilities.
One key aspect of the collaboration was using FPRC’s Community-based Prevention Marketing for Policy Development Framework (CBPM). This framework uses an eight-step approach involving social marketing to develop behavior change interventions:
- Building a strong foundation.
- Identifying what to change.
- Determining the policy to promote.
- Identifying priority audiences.
- Conducting listening sessions.
- Developing a strategic plan.
- Monitoring and evaluating.
- Revisiting implementation plan for fidelity.
Over the next two years, FPRC provided technical assistance and trainings to HPC. FRPC helped facilitators, gave presentations on the CBPM framework, and conducted literature reviews. When the time came to implement the program, HPC started small. The cities of Largo and St. Petersburg began offering Fun Bites at concession stands. Since then, 13 additional locations have consistently offered Fun Bites menu items. An evaluation by FPRC and the Department of Health in Pinellas County found that items from Fun Bites made up more than half of teens’ snack bar purchases.
“Incorporating the CBPM framework into HPC was vital to keep members engaged. Many members commented that CBPM made the consortium more effective and gave them the tools to rally around an issue that impacted the communities they served.”
The initiative quickly grew beyond a healthy food intervention. The program changed policy.
- Pinellas County changed its policy for food sales at local events and festivals. Thirteen of 17 recreational centers adapted Fun Bites to make healthy snack options available and affordable to tweens.1
- Two Florida municipalities adopted policies to make food vendors offer at least one Fun Bite menu option.1
- St. Petersburg adopted a policy impacting concessions sold at programs and events. Items in 40 vending machines were replaced with healthier options. Park and recreation policies were changed to specify the types of foods that could be offered.1
These policy changes have ensured program sustainability and helped expand Fun Bites to other parts of Florida. In 2020, a Fun Bites pilot project began at a cafeteria in Tallahassee. Plans include expanding the initiative and establishing an online vendor certification database to help vendors meet nutritional guidelines. This database could be another valuable key to program sustainability. FPRC made the Community-based Prevention Marketing for Policy Development Framework available as an online training so that other communities can use the information from earlier Fun Bites programs to create new initiatives that lead to behavior change, policy reform, and systems change.
- USF Health College of Public Health. Policy change + healthier food options = Fun Bites. Available at https://hscweb3.hsc.usf.edu/health/publichealth/news/policy-change-healthier-food-options-fun-bites/. Accessed December 14, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Consequences of Obesity. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/basics/consequences.html. Accessed December 14, 2022.