A team of University of Kentucky College of Public Health researchers and members of the Appalachian community have been awarded a $2.3 million five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to tackle issues of poor nutrition and associated disease in Southeastern Kentucky.
Appalachians Together Restoring the Eating Environment (Appal-TREE): Advancing Sustainable CBPR Interventions to Improve Healthy Diet in Rural Appalachian Children is funded by the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (grant 1 U01 MD010556) and aims to improve the dietary intake of Appalachian children and their families by promoting water consumption, increasing families’ cooking skills, and increasing access to healthy foods for school children over the summer. The new project follows a three-year National Institutes of Health-funded planning grant (R24MD008018) supporting community-based participatory research (CBPR).
During the three-year planning period, the team talked with hundreds of community members in southeastern Kentucky and ran several pilot projects that set the stage for the larger grant. Many community members expressed particular concern about their children, who have very high rates of obesity, overweight, and poor dietary intake.
The Appal-TREE team is headed by Dr. Mark Swanson in the Department of Health Behavior at Kentucky, and Dr. Nancy Schoenberg in the Department of Behavioral Science at the UK College of Medicine and associate dean for research at Kentucky. The Community Farm Alliance, under the direction of Mr. Martin Richards and with project leadership from Ms. Valerie Horn, is the primary community partner involved in planning and conducting the research. Other community partners include: Faith Moves Mountains, a community-based research organization headquartered in Whitesburg, Kentucky; Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation; and the school systems of several southeast Kentucky counties. Dr. Janet Mullins of the UK College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment at UK, Dr. Heather Bush at Kentucky, and Dr. Carol Bryant of the University of South Florida College of Public Health, along with Dr. Ted Grossardt, recently retired from the UK College of Engineering’s Kentucky Transportation Research Center, make up the multidisciplinary research team.
Appal-TREE uses innovative research approaches including Structured Public Involvement to solicit community input, and delivers a tested package of healthy diet interventions including water promotion in school settings, healthy cooking classes in public housing and elsewhere, and expansion of the Summer Food Service Program via farmers markets to Appalachian communities. The project will also teach young people social marketing techniques to sustain these healthy habits.
Pilot work showed large increases in water consumption among schoolchildren following the installation of water stations and social marketing campaigns. Families enrolled in cooking classes improved their dietary intake. Children enrolled in the USDA Summer Feeding Program onsite at the farmer’s market consumed more fruits and vegetables than those children who were not in the program. These are low cost, popular programs that can be easily sustained once the research money ends.