Penn State Extension receives grant for 4-H healthy-living program

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State Extension and UnitedHealthcare on Aug. 15 announced a new partnership to promote healthy living by launching a new campaign designed to empower youth to help tackle the nation's obesity epidemic.

The partnership, called Eat4-Health, is activating thousands of 4-H youth ambassadors to make healthy choices for themselves and encourage friends, families and people in their communities to make positive changes through training, creative programs and educational events. The program currently spans 10 states, including Pennsylvania.

At the partnership launch in Pennsylvania, UnitedHealthcare's mascot Dr. Health E. Hound joined 4-H youth at Penn State's Ag Progress Days, the state's largest outdoor agricultural exposition, to encourage attendees to stay active and eat healthy. By creating spontaneous "healthy flash mobs," 4-H and UnitedHealthcare urged attendees to participate in simple, fun group dance and fitness activities designed to burn calories and promote health.

Community leaders, including Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary George Greig, U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, state Sens. John Eichelberger and Gene Yaw, and state Reps. Bryan Barbin, Gordon Denlinger, Pamela DeLissio, Mark Gillen, Deberah Kula, Mark Longietti, Brandon Neuman, Jerry Stern and Mike Tobash, joined in the healthy flash mob and participated in an official partnership announcement, where UnitedHealthcare presented a $30,000 check to Pennsylvania 4-H to launch the program.

"Pennsylvania 4-H is pleased to partner with UnitedHealthcare and launch this new campaign to empower youth to help improve the health of their peers, their families and their communities," said Christy Bartley, Pennsylvania 4-H program leader with Penn State Extension.

"4-H youth ambassadors are prepared to work with UnitedHealthcare to make a positive impact on the health and wellness of our nation's future leaders," she said. "Today's activities are an example of the creativity and excitement 4-H youth are bringing to this campaign."

Eat4-Health builds on UnitedHealthcare's successful partnership with 4-H that began last year in Florida, Mississippi and Texas. The campaign is expanding to Arizona, Louisiana, Nebraska, New York, South Carolina and Tennessee, in addition to Pennsylvania. The 4-H organizations in each state are receiving a $30,000 grant to support healthy-living programs, events and other activities administered by 4-H that encourage young people and their families to eat more nutritious foods and exercise regularly.

A component of the Pennsylvania partnership included 4-H youth competing in "Camp Idol" competitions where they took familiar camping songs and matched them with physical moves that add a healthy twist. The contest winners took part in the Aug. 15 event, leading the healthy flash mob with their newly created songs. Eat4-Health educational materials also were provided to attendees to reinforce those messages.

"We are fortunate to be able to join with the young people of 4-H in the Eat4-Health program to help make a difference in the lives of so many families in Pennsylvania," said Heather Cianfrocco, president of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Pennsylvania. "UnitedHealthcare and 4-H look forward to harnessing the energy and excitement of 4-H youth to promote healthy living."

Participating 4-H state programs receiving a grant will develop action plans that provide innovative, hands-on learning approaches that target specific community needs in their state. Many of these activities will support healthy-living programs led by 4-H that encourage youth and community participation through events such as health fairs, cooking demonstrations, after-school programs, workshops and educational forums, among others.

UnitedHealthcare employees will team up with 4-H at many of these events, assisting with planning and executing projects that lead to positive, sustainable change at the community and individual level.

As part of the Eat4-Health campaign, each state will organize and host a Youth Summit/Conference to train 4-H youth ambassadors to implement programs and reach the program goals in each state. The summits will provide the venue where participants will learn more about nutrition, health and fitness, obtain information on promoting health within their communities, and gain new tools for participating in multisession educational trainings and one-time community activities and events.

This teen leadership experience also will serve as a launch to a Teen Ambassadors pledge and prepare 4-H'ers to use their increased healthy-living knowledge and skills to make an impact in their own communities.

Online and printed educational materials will enable participants to learn and commit to making healthier choices. To encourage participation, the campaign will provide simple tips for healthy choices when food shopping, preparing home meals and school lunches, when out with friends or at special occasions.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980, with nearly one in every three children being overweight or obese. Children from low-income and low-education households are three-times more likely to be obese.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and many cancers. The estimated economic cost of obesity is $270 billion per year.

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Last Updated August 27, 2012