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Research shows that youth in 4-H make healthier choices

Monthly column from Minnesota 4-H director Dorothy McCargo Freeman

According to research by Tuffs University, youth in 4-H are two times more likely to make healthier choices.

Twice as likely. That is very good news. In a world filled with unhealthy options, young people need to know how to choose what is best for their own health and wellbeing.

Healthy living is a top priority for the 4-H youth development program. In 4-H, youth of all ages learn by developing a passion in their areas of interest and lead as they innovate and serve as social change agents. Through learning and leading, youth in 4-H discover how their choices impact themselves, their peers, their families and communities.

Learning through teaching

Ermias, a 4-H'er from Dakota County, is an excellent example of how learning and leading has impacted his commitment to healthy living. As a teen teacher in the 4-H Youth Teaching Youth (YTY) program, Ermias has gained important insight into the nutrition of popular food and beverages. As he's shared his knowledge with children in local elementary schools, his own understanding has deepened.

"My favorite topic to teach is about eating habits," said Ermias. "We talk about the importance of fruit and grains and how to read nutrition labels. We also do an activity about which liquids are best to drink. Did you know that chocolate and strawberry milk has a ton of added sugar? I had no idea! The kids learn a lot when we visit them and so do I."

The 4-H YTY program connects 10,500 young people each year with opportunities to learn about healthy living. Topics are diverse, focusing on the very real issues our youth deal with daily; healthy eating, cooking, disease prevention and awareness, choosing to be active, and staying safe online.

Leading through cooking

Precious is an 11-year old 4-H'er from Mahnomen County. With the encouragement of her mentor Becca, she has been exploring both traditional and of-the-moment foods in her afterschool club. 4-H is helping Precious learn to grow, prepare and share healthy food options with others.

"The first time I saw kale chips I thought they looked nasty," said Precious. "But Becca showed us how to make them. They don't actually taste that bad. It's cool that we can grow and cook food that's healthy and good."

The Minnesota 4-H Chef for a Day and Minnesota Meats cook-offs empower young people to prepare new foods in an educational and slightly competitive environment. Hosted each year at the Minnesota State Fair, teams of youth follow recipes to create safe and healthy meals that judges test and the public can enjoy. Precious was one of nearly 400 youth who participated in Minnesota 4-H cooking competitions last year. When youth share their healthy food knowledge and enthusiasm with others, they are being leaders.

Healthy living in your own community

How are you building healthy living skills in yourself? In your family? In your community? To start this new year, let's celebrate the many ways 4-H'ers are living healthy lives.

Please share your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #HealthyLiving. I'll be glad to hear it!

Dorothy McCargo Freeman

Read more about Ermias and the 4-H YTY program
Learn more about the lasting value of 4-H cooking programs

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