Spotlight on Research at COPH – Although much attention has been given to the issue of childhood obesity in recent years, with national campaigns such as Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move, few resources have been channeled to the Latino community, the largest and fasting growing minority group in the United States. In 2011, a team of researchers led by Dr. Terry T-K Huang launched a project to address childhood obesity in the South Omaha Latino community. The project aims to engage and assist youth to become leaders in their community who promote positive cultural and social attitudes about healthy eating and active living and simultaneously advocate for environmental changes that make those lifestyles easier.
The project began in the summer of 2011 with the training of a cohort of 13 Latino South Omaha High School students. This group of students created the SaludableOmaha brand and logo and built a foundation that will allow the initiative to grow and spread through the community. With the research team’s assistance, the youth developed promotional and social marketing materials targeting their peers, their families, and community leaders (www.saludableomaha.com). The students also designed and painted a mural in a community location and organized a dinner to discuss the SaludableOmaha project goals with community leaders and parents.
SaludableOmaha has grown with the support of internal and external partners. Support from the principal of Omaha South High School led to youth advocacy training being integrated into the school’s curriculum. A new group of students joined the effort, received training, and began collaborating with Live Well Omaha Kids’ Youth Advisory Council to advocate for changes to school policy and environment. The youth proposed a pilot initiative to change how foods were labeled and displayed in the Omaha South High School cafeteria in order to make healthy choices easier and more appealing. The students helped implement and evaluate this initiative with the buy-in and support of the cafeteria staff, and found evidence of positive changes in student healthy eating attitudes.
SaluableOmaha has done much work to set the stage for successful community-based and sustainable change. The youth-led movement has begun to show progress and potential impact at individual, community, and environmental levels. The research team will continue its work with students, helping them to expand strategies beyond the school environment in order to engage families, businesses, and community institutions in similar changes. The continued development, implementation, and evaluation of SaludableOmaha will provide important information to guide the future of obesity prevention.
Terry T-K Huang, PhD, MPH, CPH, is chair of, and a professor in, the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.