Florida Prevention Research Center helps youth to “Snack Strong”

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The Florida Prevention Research Center (FPRC) at the USF College of Public Health worked with the Lexington, Kentucky Tweens Nutrition and Fitness coalition to make healthy foods more accessible throughout the city.

One initiative, Better Bites: Snack Strong, provides technical assistance and marketing support to improve the nutritional quality of menus at venues that cater predominately to youth.

Healthy food offerings that meet Better Bites: Snack Strong nutrition guidelines now appear on menus at public pools and government cafeterias, school concessions, movie theaters, restaurants, summer camps, Kentucky State Parks and many other venues.

Like many cities, Lexington has seen a sharp rise in childhood obesity. One in three Lexington youth, between ages five to 18, are overweight or obese.

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Research revealed that many residents had difficulty purchasing healthy foods in their neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and recreational venues. Though youth are encouraged to eat healthy food, they are often not available at the places they frequent.

The FPRC and Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition used social marketing principles and techniques to gain the insights needed to select and promote policy and environmental changes to make healthy foods more accessible “where ever people live, learn work and play.”

“By making healthy food more normative we hope to change youth’s expectations about what constitutes an enjoyable snack at a public venue,” said Dr. Carol Bryant of the FPRC. “In our opinion, the community’s leadership and the use of social marketing were the essential ingredients.”

The Better Bites: Snack Strong initiative gained important traction as soon as the Parks and Recreation Department adopted it.

Nutritionists on the coalition worked with park staff to design eight healthful food options to sell at public pools, capturing ten percent of sales and significant media attention in the months immediately after introduction in 2011.

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Sales data and interviews conducted with youth and concession stand staff at participating pools were used to make menu adjustments.

Better Bites sales increased by 267 percent from 2011 to 2014.

In 2014, Better Bites were accessible to the 104,700 pool visitors and accounted for nearly 40 percent of total sales, and in 2015, 65 percent of the items on the public pool menus met Better Bites nutrition guidelines, compared to eight percent before the initiative started.

A variety of other recreational facilities also have adopted Better Bites: Snack Strong menu items, including numerous restaurants, the local minor league baseball team’s stadium concession stand, the YMCA and other after-school programs, school concession stands, summer camps and city-sponsored youth groups.

In addition, a Better Bites: Snack Strong branded bicycle cart delivers healthful snacks like fresh fruit and yogurt parfaits throughout the city’s neighborhoods.

Kentucky’s State Government now offers Better Bites at three cafeterias—Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Department of Transportation and the Kentucky State Capita—that serve thousands of people each week.

The State Department of Parks also changed its food policy to adopt Better Bites: Snack Strong in all 17 state park restaurant locations.

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Moreover, Better Bites: Snack Strong was featured on a local television news broadcast, and the program continues to expand.

According to FPRC, healthy food options are becoming more normalized in the Lexington community.

In 2014, fruit outsold chicken nuggets, three to one, at the public pools.

“Systems for procuring, storing, serving and marketing healthier items have been developed making it easier to bring new partners on board,” said Bryant.

Story by Carol Bryant, Florida Prevention Research Center

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