Lack of access to affordable healthy food is a major factor contributing to poor diets in the United States. And reports show that even when there is access to affordable healthy food without education about food and nutrition, there isn’t a sustained impact on improving nutritional intake. To help combat this issue, a program called Access, Continuity and Education (ACE) was born.
KIPP Explore Academy student enjoys a kale smoothie at the ACE program.
ACE is a new collaborative effort among the Houston Food Bank, Texas Children’s Hospital, KIPP schools and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The program seeks to improve health by removing barriers to healthy eating.
The project is being conducted as part of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas School of Public Health, part of UTHealth.
Second-and-third-grade children and their parents at KIPP Explore Academy in Houston’s East End are currently participating in ACE. The 16-week program includes 50 servings of a variety of produce sent home weekly with parents. The ACE program also includes family taste-testing sessions, nutrition handouts and recipe cards, and the classroom-based, teacher-led CATCH nutrition education.
CATCH (Coordinated Approach To Child Health) is a school-based health program that was developed in the late 1980’s to promote physical activity and healthy food choices and prevent tobacco use. The program, initially funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, began on a trial basis. CATCH has since been adopted by more than 8,500 schools in the United States and abroad.
ACE launched last fall after Jon Adler and his wife Lisa Helfman came up with the idea of bringing the food cooperative concept to children. Helfman serves as the director of Real Estate Services at Texas Children’s Hospital.
“They participated in a co-op and saw the difference it made to their family and children’s eating habits and wanted to translate it to the community,” says Shreela Sharma, Ph.D., assistant professor at The UT School of Public Health.
Sharma says that she jumped on board with the program because she was excited about the idea of combining food access with food literacy.
“Our team helped give structure to the idea by identifying that 50 servings of produce per week was sufficient. We also developed the nutrition education components as well as the evaluation of the program to see if it is feasible, acceptable and changes family’s eating habits,” she said.
The program includes numerous healthy snacks for students and their families.
In addition to Sharma, this team of UTHealth professionals includes Christine Markham, Ph.D.; Laura Moore, R.D.; Michael Pomeroy, research coordinator; Katherine Albus, graduate assistant; and student Courtenay Smith.
The Houston Food Bank supplies all the produce for ACE at a minimal cost, making the goal of providing healthy food to the families easier to attain.
ACE is one of several UTHealth community outreach efforts geared toward elementary-age children.
Project SMART, led by the UTHealth School of Nursing, is another program that educates young students about nutrition. A winter garden including lettuce, carrots, cabbage, and mustard greens was planted at Foster Elementary as part of the program last November.
The project also offers fourth-grade students at the school an after-school program that focuses on healthy habits related to nutrition and the importance of avoiding risky behaviors. The students were paired with UTHealth nursing students to learn about importance of healthy lifestyles.
ACE could be expected to expand to other campuses in Houston after the pilot is complete this April.
– Alexandria Bland, UTHealth Media Relations