University of Minnesota Extension
Menu Menu

Extension > Youth Development Insight > Walk the walk: Are you modeling healthy living for youth in your programs?

Walk the walk: Are you modeling healthy living for youth in your programs?


Kimberly-Asche.jpgA recent University of Minnesota research study reveals that parents of young children have poorer eating habits and exercise less than their peers, contributing to high body mass index. Question: what would a similar study of youth program leaders find? Are we modeling healthy living?

Research shows that parents are their children's first and most valued role model. Research also shows that program leaders modeling healthy living choices can have a positive effect on youth in their programs, enhancing the information found in the curriculum.

The need to support healthy eating and physical activity has never been greater. Over the past 30 years, poor eating habits, including inadequate intake of vegetables, fruit and milk, and a surplus of high-calorie snacks, have caused the numbers of overweight children in the US to double and the number of obese children to triple.

Are you intentional about serving healthy food in healthy portions, playing and being active with your youth, and encouraging physical activity? There are resources for incorporating healthy living into your youth program. For example:

  • This summer, National 4-H has set a goal for 100,000 4-H youth to respond to the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award. National 4-H is providing support and a prize for the counties that sign up the most participants.
  • The US Department of Agriculture provides guidance on what constitutes a healthy diet with the My Pyramid Steps to a Healthier You program, including activities for youth and how to be a healthy living role model.

What ways are you finding to incorporate healthy living into your programs? Are you intentionally modeling healthy living for your youth? What obstacles do you find to doing so?

-- Kimberly Asche, Extension educator


Samantha Grant said:

Hi Kim,

Thanks for your post. I agree that parents and other youth workers are strong role models for kids. For the past four years, I have done numerous 4-H club observations and have also worked with data from our Youth Program Quality Assessment study. One item on the YPQA deals with the availability of healthy snacks. Time after time programs are knocked for the unhealthy choices that youth are given. Brownies and cookies might not be the healthiest choices! Do you have any strategies to help adult volunteers and other your workers bring healthy food choices into their programs when they have established a tradition of sweets?

Kimberly Asche said:

Snacking can be so important with youth events, it is a way for you to ensure that youth are getting the nutrients that they need to keep up their energy. As a youth leader, it is important to set your standards and positively role model the choice of eating great nutrient dense foods. Start slowly with simple and small portions of healthy snacks such as peeled oranges, half of a banana, kiwi, apple slices with peanut butter, carrot sticks with hummus, or grapes and cheddar cheese. It may take the youth time to adjust their tastebuds, such that introducing the same foods over a period of several weeks you will see the change occur slowly. Have the youth prepare simple items while on site that they can prepare at home such as sliced turkey on wheat bread, create their own snack mix made with raisins, nuts, and whole wheat cereal. Youth can create their own roll-up using whole grain tortilla or bagel with low-fat cheese or cream cheese.

Youth enjoy making their own food, it gives them somewhat the sense of mastery and independence. Basically you as a youth worker need to make the decision to serve healthy choices, role model and advocate for healthy lifestyle choices. It is also important to role model "food safety" concepts by washing hands prior to preparing foods.

Leave a comment

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

  • © 2014 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy