GROW Healthy Kids and Communities – Reporting Back After 5 Years in Communities

In the Summer 2014 issue of Oregon Small Farm News, our colleagues in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences Extension reported on GROW Healthy Kids and Communities (GROW), an innovative, community-based approach to improving the health of rural kids in Oregon. 

The overall goal of GROW was to prevent obesity in rural children by improving their opportunities –at home, in school, and in the community – to make healthy eating and physical activity an easy and preferred behavioral choice. To do this, the GROW team engaged rural communities in identifying local environmental factors that support or hinder habitual physical activity and healthy eating, to enable residents to use new knowledge to make appropriate changes to the community context. The $5 million, five-year integrated research and Extension project was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Three years later, lead investigators Deborah John and Kathy Gunter, GIS Technician Tammy Winfield, and the full GROW team, have outcomes to share.

We also congratulate them on receiving the 2017 Jeanne M. Priester Award for developing Mapping Attributes using Participatory Photographic Surveys (MAPPS™), an Extension tool to identify and address issues in each community’s Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) context. (Read on for more detail.) The Priester Award recognizes “exemplary, impactful leadership to your state of Oregon and Cooperative Extension nationwide in the area of health and wellness.”

The GROW team is now developing an online training and MAPPS tool to address local issues of health and place.

The following is an abridged version of an article written for OSU Extension’s Bridges to Prosperity by Tammy Winfield, MS, GIS Technician for GROW; and Project Directors Deborah John, PhD, Associate Professor and Health Extension Specialist, and Kathy Gunter, PhD, Associate Professor and Physical Activity Specialist; OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

GROW – Summary and Outcomes

From 2011 through 2016, GROW was implemented in Clackamas, Columbia, and Klamath counties in Oregon and in five additional western states. Specifically in Oregon, County Extension supported GROW activities in partnership with the towns and elementary schools of Estacada, Molalla, Clatskanie, Rainier, Bonanza and Chiloquin.

Campus and County Extension teams worked closely with rural residents, schools, and community partners to measure the height, weight, and school day physical activity of about 1,900 grade schoolers two times per school year over a three-year study period. About 200 kids and their families completed surveys about their eating and activity habits in the home and wore devices to record their physical activity levels over a week. Participatory assessments of school physical activity and nutrition environments provided school partners with information to make changes that supported students healthy eating and physical activity patterns at school.

Additionally, GROW leaders developed an Extension tool, Mapping Attributes using Participatory Photographic Surveys (MAPPS™) to identify and address issues in each community’s Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) context. Community HEAL MAPPS™ teams, local residents and organizational partners, were equipped with camera-enabled GPS devices. The MAPPers used technologies to photograph and map their encounters with the HEAL environmental features in their towns—like the availability (or not) of vending machines, sidewalks and bike lanes—that influence children’s and families’ eating, drinking, active recreation and transportation habits. MAPPers shared photos at public meetings, facilitated by local Extension, where attendees conversed and offered suggestions for dealing with the environmental barriers to developing and maintaining weight healthy rural lifestyles.

Project Results

New resources valued in total over $700,000 resulted from engaged, inclusive participation, local data and demand driven actions in all counties and communities.

In Klamath County, in both Chiloquin and Bonanza, local unavailability and inaccessibility of affordable, healthy food choices, active recreation and transportation supports, and considerable travel distances to access needed resources (sometimes upwards of 30 miles), emerged as a common theme likely contributing to rural (compared to urban) weight health disparities.

As a solution, the Chiloquin community planted a school garden to provide produce to students, the playground resurfaced to improve safety, and new portable play equipment acquired to increase activity at the elementary school.

In Bonanza, a HEAL MAPPS™ photo of the minimart and community conversation on the quality of local food choices, provoked installation of garden beds at the school to increase access to fresh produce and support nutrition education. Engaged residents petitioned the park board to unlock restrooms to promote families use of public parks and playgrounds.

In Columbia County, the Clatskanie community mobilized to improve healthy food access through a new farmers’ market, school garden and salad bar. Partners planned, leveraged resources, and completed extensive playground renovations at the school, secured additional funding and installed new trails to enable community connectivity, and walkability safety.

In Rainier, GROW was leveraged to improve activity environments at the elementary school and support farm to school, bicycle safety, and community recreation programs.

In Clackamas County, the Molalla community launched the “Let’s Move Molalla!” to promote weight healthy, active family lifestyles. Yet, HEAL MAPPS™ revealed a dearth of public physical activity supports. Community partners’ leveraged Extension resources, including GROW data, to plan and install a series of story walks in Molalla neighborhoods and the 500th school garden at Molalla High School. YA4-H Culture Club members advocated for food pantry refrigerators, set up produce stands and provided produce from the garden to families with limited access to fresh foods. In Estacada, GROW helped community and school partners collect data that informed the creation of an extensive bicyclists plaza to improve cyclists’ recreational experiences, healthy school snack environments and water fill stations.

Although the research has ended, OSU Extension efforts in rural Oregon and beyond are engaging communities to GROW Healthy Kids and Communities.

Related Content from OSU Extension

Have a Question? Ask an Expert!

Ask an Expert is a way for you to get answers from the Oregon State University Extension Service. We have experts in family and health, community development, food and agriculture, coastal issues, forestry, programs for young people, and gardening.

Ask Us a Question