Dr. Terry T.-K. Huang, professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, along with colleagues piloted a youth advocacy initiative to address obesity prevention. Their research was published in the Journal of Primary Prevention.
Joining the research team were school and health leaders as well as high school students. The research was informed by social cognitive theory, social network theory, and theories of community mobilization. The publication uses lessons learned from the pilot to describe applications of theoretical frameworks with relevance to youth advocacy for obesity prevention and provide outcome evaluation findings of a youth-led food labeling and social marketing campaign.
Students from a high school in Omaha and health leaders worked together to develop the messaging and graphic design of color-coded placards with traffic light emblems. The placards were incrementally displayed in the cafeteria service line over a seven-week period. The researchers coached students to initiate introductory conversations, plan and hold collaborative meetings and present campaign strategies.
Students distributed a survey two weeks prior and at the end of the seven-week campaign to assess confidence to identify healthy foods and dietary behaviors. The researchers used fruit and vegetable production records to track servings of fruit and vegetables as a proxy for intake. Beginning two weeks prior to the campaign, school cafeteria staff manually tracked the total number of services of each fruit and vegetable option provided during lunch.
The researchers found small but significant improvements in students’ self-reported confidence to identify healthy foods and fruit and vegetable servings. The findings demonstrate the potential of social marketing with social media to engage peer social networks and confirm the importance of peer influence on adolescent eating behaviors.