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University teaches nutrition to American Indian and rural kindergarteners

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Staci Emm
Theresa Danna-Douglas

Young children living on American Indian reservations, and children living in rural areas adjacent to them, often have limited access to nutritious fruits and vegetables, as well as to nutrition education.

Professor Staci Emm and colleagues at University of Nevada, Reno Extension have been conducting the Veggies for Kids Program to address the issue, and have just published a paper on the program and its successful results in an article in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, in the Indigenous Food Sovereignty issue.

Emm has been the Extension educator in Mineral County for more than 15 years, working to link the university with county residents and members of Nevada tribes. She is the program leader for Veggies for Kids, an in-school program that teaches students how to grow their own vegetables and increase physical activity and water intake. The program also uses tribal language to introduce and increase the appreciation and use of healthy traditional Native American and Hispanic foods.

“We have worked really hard as a team to create the Veggies for Kids Program, and it is very exciting to be able to publish the successes of this program,” Emm said. “We hope schools, tribes and nonprofits in the United States will use the concepts in the curriculum not only to increase vegetable and water intake, but also to increase awareness of traditional food systems and tribal language.”

While conducting the program across Nevada during the 2017-2018 school year, Emm and program instructors collected data from 45 American Indian kindergarten students attending reservation schools and 486 students attending off-reservation rural schools. Their journal article, “Increasing Fruit and Vegetable Intake with Reservation and Off-Reservation Students in Nevada,” details the results of their research. Some of their findings include that there was an increase in the number of students who were able to name fruits and vegetables and identify food groups on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate. In addition, students who participated in the Veggies for Kids Program became more physically active.

American Indian kindergarten students received additional focus in the program and research, due to the impacts that the establishment of reservations had on American Indians. Specifically, the establishment of reservations limited hunting and gathering activities, decreasing access to traditional foods.

The Veggies for Kids Program will continue working with reservations and rural communities, helping to educate both the students and school staff on nutrition, health and food safety. Future goals include integrating this information, especially about traditional food, into schools and stores and creating an early childhood curriculum focused more on traditional foods of Nevada tribes.

The Veggies for Kids Program was supported by the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed), Indian Land Tenure Foundation, and the Native American Agriculture Fund. Emm’s co-authors in the journal article include Jessica Harris, Judy Halterman, Sarah Chvilicek and Carol Bishop. Read more about the program and the research results in the journal article.