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K-State Today

August 7, 2013

Grant to test community coaching to reduce obesity in youth

Submitted by Nancy B. Peterson

A coach's role is familiar — he or she calls the plays to win.

And while coaching often is associated with athletics, a Kansas State University researcher has proposed a similar strategy — community coaching — to help create an environment in which children are better able to choose health-promoting foods and physical activity.  

The goal is to help youth maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle, said Paula Peters, who along with her team landed a five-year, $4.5 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, or NIFA, to test community coaching as an effective method in reducing obesity in youth in seven states.  

Doing so also should help reduce the incidence of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, that are associated with obesity, she said.

Peters was first hired as K-State Research and Extension's children's nutrition specialist, and now serves as assistant director of extension, family and consumer sciences.

In seeking an answer to a perennial question: How can we teach children to make better choices?, Peters and her team suggested a comparative study in which two communities with similar demographics are awarded funding — $5,000 a year for four years — to improve nutrition and physical activity education, resources and policies in their community.

The grant effort is targeting 4-year-olds who are at an age when they are beginning to make some of their own food and activity choices, Peters said.

The grant process will involve working with people making the decisions about the opportunities available to this age group, and not the children, she said.

Participating communities were selected through an application and review process. Each community will be provided a grant-developed tool kit, and asked to choose one plan of work to enhance nutrition education and one plan of work to encourage health-promoting physical activity.

Both will be expected to work with community coalitions — others who provide services to youth within the community — but one also will have a community coach added to their team.

Pre- and post-program testing will be conducted over a four-year period for communities with and without a coach as a comparative review of the value of intervention, and also the value of intervention with the addition of a community coach.

"We're hoping to make a difference," said Peters, who is working closely with Sandy Procter, a K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist and state coordinator for the USDA’s expanded food and nutrition education program, or EFNEP, and family nutrition programs, as the grant project coordinator for Kansas.  

Procter’s responsibilities also include working with the six other participating states — Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin — to ensure consistency.

To date, she has worked with the states to develop the application forms, selection and other grant processes, and nutrition and health tool kits for participating communities.

According to Procter, the grant is a good fit for extension, which has a history of sharing relevant resources from the university with citizens and building successful community coalitions.  

Peters and Procter also have been working with Dan Kahl to orient and train community coaches.

Kahl, who introduced the community coaching concept to Kansas PRIDE communities, is the former co-coordinator for the statewide community development effort, and is now working with K-State's Center for Engagement and Community Development.

Local coaches will be expected to provide the leadership to help communities learn to do the homework and weigh decisions that will yield benefits for their youth and families now — and in the future, Peters said.