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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Carrie Ann Olson works at the crux of healthy living and good decision making

Extension educator Carrie Ann Olson
For more than 25 years, Carrie Ann Olson has been working at the crux of healthy living and good decision making.

In order to live more healthfully, people need to make good choices, based on good information about nutrition and health. "Nobody wants to put junk into their body once they understand what they're eating," Carrie said.

Carrie's philosophy is that healthy living is fun. She has designed cook-offs and other challenge events that challenge youth to think about what they're cooking. "We don't tell kids 'You're going to make this.' We leave it open ended because they learn more when their interests lead,' she said.

The causes of obesity and poor health do not lie in the food itself, Carrie says, but rather in the way many people approach it. "Food gets a bad rap. People say we're eating too much or we're getting too serious, but it's really simple to throw good ingredients together and eat well instead of being exhausted at the end of the day and making bad choices."

An Extension educator in the Morris regional office, Carrie leads all things healthy living for Minnesota 4-H. Most 4-H'ers have likely met her at a 4-H cook-off, a consumer decision-making challenge or other healthy living event. She also trains professional youth workers and volunteers to deliver all kinds of programming to youth.

a Chef for a Day team preparing a
vegetable and meat stir fry
Carrie is U of M Extension's liaison to National 4-H Council's healthy living initiative. As part of that work, she is engaging youth  in Milan and Moorhead to improve healthy living options. "We're incorporating youth voice at a community level to find out what healthy living means to them and help develop what they feel they need to be healthy - whether it's walking paths, an activity or something else."

In past years, Carrie has taught a course called Targeted Food Marketing to Youth. It helped adults lead programs that empowered youth to recognize and understand marketing messages they hear, see and read. She co-developed Stepping Out, a curriculum for adults mentoring youth in elementary and junior high on 10 different health topics.

A current project is Chef for a Day at the Minnesota State Fair. "We bring in culinary professionals who have a passion for healthy living and connecting with kids. My dream is to see the program replicated at the county level so more youth can participate," she said.

Carrie doesn't work directly with youth as much as she used to, and she misses it. But she likes making a bigger impact on youth health by training youth workers and planning good programs. "The learner in me likes working directly with young people. But now instead of thinking 'what do kids need?' I think 'what do my staff and volunteers in order to support our young people?' That's important too."

Ann Nordby
Communications & online learning
Extension Center for Youth Development


Learn about 4-H Healthy Living opportunities in Minnesota.
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