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Sarah Colby
Sarah Colby

A UT 4-H Extension initiative aimed at empowering college students to create obesity prevention programs for their peers and high school students has received a $4.9 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture.

The USDA made the announcement today.

“Get Fruved” is the brain child of Sarah Colby, a UT assistant professor of nutrition. It is a 4-H social marketing and environmental change initiative that harnesses the power of peer-to-peer interaction in an effort to get children, adolescents, and college students to eat more fruits and vegetables and adopt healthy lifestyles.

The term “fruved” alludes to fruits and vegetables.

“The college students are the ones developing the interventions and changing their campus environments so that those environments help support healthy behavior,” Colby said. “It’s only limited by the imagination and creativity of the students so expect to see amazing things. Students are so passionate about having an impact on the world. Their passion, commitment, and creativity are why this project is going to make a real difference.”

UT’s grant, funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, was one of three—and the largest—awarded to universities to combat childhood obesity. Tufts University and Winston-Salem State University each received about $150,000 for their own initiatives.

UT students participate in a "Get Fruved" project.
UT students participate in a “Get Fruved” project.

UT will partner with thirteen universities nationwide for the Get Fruved project, which launches in August. Colby also is working with the UT Institute of Agriculture.

The USDA is tackling obesity on all fronts, said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director.

“We’ve seen in recent studies that obesity rates for very young children are dropping, which is excellent news and shows that projects like these and others are working,” he said. “However, studies also show that for the rest of the population, obesity still remains a critical concern. It’s important that we keep investing in science that will lead to healthy outcomes for all Americans.”

More than 1,000 students will work together to create the interventions, Colby said. It could range from stress management and gardening on campus to tackling food access issues and creating nights of dancing so students become more physically active.

“It’s reaching the students where they are and where they want to be,” Colby said.

Eventually, college students will move beyond their campuses and partner with high school students to help them develop a campaign for their high school environment. The hope is to have future funding that will allow the high school students to help middle school students do the same, and then middle school students to work with elementary students to design obesity prevention programs for elementary schools.

“So often, people see us doing research and think it’s only for the sake of research,” Colby said. “The heart of this is that we’re going to improve health. Research is critical because it helps us understand and document what worked and why it worked so that others can do the same or make it even better.”

The other universities UT will partner with are the University of Florida, South Dakota State University, West Virginia University, Kansas State University, Auburn University, Syracuse University, New Mexico State University, the University of Maine, Rutgers University, the University of Nebraska, the University of Rhode Island, the University of New Hampshire and Tuskegee University.


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