FRC News

Building relationships, identifying needs, and developing healthy lifestyle programming

Tyler Wolpert
6/14/2015  8:00 am

Few studies have examined the lifestyle habits of diet and physical activity among Latino immigrants in rural areas of Illinois, and research regarding this topic is scarce. The Latino population in these areas is increasing and may be at a higher risk for obesity and obesity-related health issues. Because of this, it is important to investigate diet and exercise behaviors in this high-risk population and develop healthy lifestyle strategies for these communities.

As part of a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) project, Drs. Marcella Raffaelli and Henna Muzaffar have established a collaborative relationship between members of the University of Illinois and the Multicultural Community Center (MCC). The MCC is a non-profit organization in Rantoul, Illinois, that provides services in areas of education, cultural arts, recreation, community development, health, and social services to families of Latino workers, as well as to others in the local community.

Part of the Health Transitions in Immigrant Families Initiative, which is supported by the Christopher Family Foundation Food and Family Program, the project’s intent is to help build the relationship between the MCC and the University of Illinois and teach healthy eating and nutritional skills to the children and their parents. To accomplish this, University of Illinois staff regularly visit the center to build relationships, assess needs, and develop healthy lifestyle programming.

The early stages of the project determined some of the center’s key needs. Says Dr. Muzaffar for instance, “During Phase I of the project, we identified that the center library did not include books on healthy lifestyle, so students at the University of Illinois conducted a book drive to collect 35 books to donate to the center.” Dr. Muzaffar then led a book-reading event at the MCC in April. The books, such as Eat Your Peas or Grandpa’s Garden Lunch, deal with things like healthy eating and exercise.

And that’s a just a small component of the overall outreach project.

For instance, the needs assessment determined that the center did not have organized activities dealing with healthy lifestyle programming during the two hours that the children spend at the center daily. Working with MCC staff, University of Illinois Extension members have been developing organized activities for the two hours that the children spend at the center each day. Recently, they’ve been developing and implementing a cooking program, Kids in The Kitchen Program, for children at the center.

The results have been positive to this point. University of Illinois Extension staff has been delivering the cooking program at the MCC since January. MCC staff has been very receptive to the program so far, and students are enjoying it. Part of the reason behind the success is that the program has been tailored to the needs of the students according to Muzaffar. “During phase II, we administered self-report surveys with children ages 6-12 to gather information about their dietary patterns, physical activity levels, weight status, blood pressure levels, and some demographic information.” It’s all in an effort to determine what type of program will be most beneficial for this age group.

It’s just a start says Dr. Muzaffar, “In the future we will work with the MCC to seek funding to engage in projects to address the needs identified during this project to promote healthy eating and increased physical activity among rural Latinos.”