Cultivate Mental Health Through Gardening

by Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

With warmer weather upon us and more daylight every day, my thoughts have turned to spending more time outdoors. Last year I spent more time at home because of the pandemic, and during this time I rekindled my interest in gardening. I was not alone, as there was a surge in interest as evidenced by increased sales of plants and garden-related items. This renewed interest in gardening is expected to grow.

zucchini plant growing

Zucchini growing in my garden last year

Gardening is probably one of the most common ways of interacting with nature. The hands-on aspect of gardening is very appealing. After spending an hour in the garden I can see the results of my work right away. I find there is something satisfying about picking flowers or eating something that I grew, perhaps only minutes after I picked it. I even potted my herbs and moved them indoors for the winter, so I could spice up my wintertime meals. The fruits of your gardening labors may be more than the vegetables or flowers that you grow. It turns out that gardening can also be a great way to cultivate mental health.

Gardening and Mental Health

Although research on young people’s mental health and gardening is limited, within the larger area of studying nature-related activities, researchers have found that gardening has a significant positive impact on several aspects of health. They found a number of health benefits, including reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms and stress, and increased positive emotions, quality of life, sense of community, and physical activity levels. Some benefits can appear right away, but it is unclear how long they persist. It is reasonable to assume the gardening activity needs to be continued to sustain them.

Possible Pathways to Health: How are these benefits possible?

Gardening can be a boon to psychological, physical, and social health. What are the possible pathways for how these benefits can be achieved?

  • Direct exposure to nature and the outdoors by spending time outside has been found to have a restorative and calming effect. It shifts focus, provides an escape, and may facilitate reflection.
  • Beyond the more obvious physical benefits from gardening, it can indirectly have a psychological health benefit. The mechanism for how this works for psychological health isn’t clear, but it could be that increased physical activity is the “driver” of improved mood, as such a connection with physical activity has been demonstrated in other studies.
  • The food produced in gardens provides healthy eating options, which can directly contribute to physical health. People may be more willing to try something that they grew themselves.
  • Gardening is a purposeful activity with a tangible product. A harvest of colorful flowers or tasty vegetables provides a sense of achievement and feelings of success. Mastering new knowledge and skills (that is, things like knowing what and when to plant and the practical tasks of tending plants) can lead to a feeling of accomplishment, which can be a mechanism for mental well-being.

    man and boy in garden

    Make gardening a family activity

  • Social connections may develop by participating in gardening activities as a family or with another group such as a 4-H club. Community gardening allows people to find others with common interests and interact with others in a shared experience.

Young people may be exposed to gardening through a school or after-school community-based program, often accompanied by additional lessons, with the goal of influencing fruit and vegetable consumption. However, it may be more difficult to translate this interest into a home garden. On the other hand, an interest in gardening may grow from family connections.

Ideas for Getting Started or Expanding Your Garden

  • Start with a container garden and branch out from there.
  • Get your family involved.
  • Volunteer to help a family member or neighbor with their garden.
  • Research school-based or community gardens in your area. If one is not available in your area, what would it take to start one? Check out our post on how to create an action plan if starting such a project is something you want to take on. For some inspiration, read about a school garden outreach program started by OSU medical students.

It’s important to recognize that taking on a garden involves responsibility–you will have to tend to it on a regular basis, such as keeping it watered and weeded. The weather or insects may present setbacks. Will you still be interested in caring for your garden after the novelty wears off or you encounter problems? Recognize that having a garden may involve some expenses for seeds, plants, and equipment if not already on hand. If you need help getting started, your local OSU Extension office and Master Gardener Volunteer programs can offer gardening advice.

Time to dig in and harvest the benefits of gardening!

garden vegetables

Subscribe: Don’t miss out on our health living posts. You can subscribe by clicking on the “Subscribe” button in the lower right corner of your screen. You can also check out our Grab and Go Resources page for downloadable activities.

References

Evans, A., Ranjit, N., Rutledge, R., Medina, J., Jennings, R., Smiley, A., Stigler, M., & Hoelscher, D. (2012). Exposure to multiple components of a garden-based intervention for middle school students increases fruit and vegetable consumption. Health Promotion Practice, 13(5), 608–616. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524839910390357

Masterton, W., Carver, H., Parkes, T., & Park, K. (2020). Greenspace interventions for mental health in clinical and non-clinical populations: What works, for whom, and in what circumstances? Health and Place, 64, 102338. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2020.102338

Ober Allen, J., Alaimo, K., Elam, D., & Perry, E. (2008). Growing vegetables and values: Benefits of neighborhood-based community gardens for youth development and nutrition. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 3(4), 418–439. https://doi.org/10.1080/19320240802529169

Shao, Y., Elsadek, M., & Liu, B. (2020). Horticultural activity: Its contribution to stress recovery and wellbeing for children. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 1229. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17041229

Skelton, K. R., Lowe, C., Zaltz, D. A., & Benjamin-Neelon, S. E. (2020). Garden-based interventions and early childhood health: An umbrella review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 17, 121. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-020-01023-5

Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y. (2017). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports, 5, 92–99. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007

Van Den Berg, A. E., & Custers, M. H. G. (2011). Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. Journal of Health Psychology, 16(1), 3–11. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105310365577

Where’s the Sodium? And Why Does It Matter?

by Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Sodium, generally in the form of salt, is a mineral that is regularly added to foods for flavoring and preservation. It is a necessary mineral for the human body, so you do need some sodium (a very small amount) in your diet. Your nervous and cardiovascular systems cannot operate properly without it. However, the average American gets too much sodium. Too much sodium increases a person’s risk for high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

High blood pressure and stroke may seem a long way off for teens. However, many young people are already consuming large amounts of sodium. According to the American Heart Association, children with high-sodium diets are almost 40% more likely to have elevated blood pressure than those with lower-sodium diets. About 1 in 7 youth aged 12 to 19 years old had high blood pressure  (hypertension) or raised blood pressure. Youth with high blood pressure are more likely to have high blood pressure when they are adults. Raised blood pressure is a major cause of heart disease. Therefore, eating a diet lower in sodium can help lower blood pressure, and thus may prevent heart disease later in life.

Some sodium is necessary because it has many important jobs — sending nerve signals throughout the body, tightening and relaxing muscles, and maintaining proper fluid balance. The kidneys regulate the body’s sodium level by getting rid of any excess. But if there’s too much sodium in the blood, the kidneys can’t keep up. Excess sodium in the blood pulls out water from the cells; as this fluid increases, so does the volume of blood. That means more work for the heart just to do its everyday job of pumping blood, which increases pressure in the blood vessels. Over time, this extra work takes it toll, and a person’s chances of suffering from heart disease goes up.

How much is enough? The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend Americans ages 14 years old and older eat no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. For comparison, 2,300 mg is the amount in about a teaspoon of salt. Lower consumption — no more than 1,500 mg per day, about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt — is recommended for younger children, middle-aged and older adults, African Americans, and people with high blood pressure. With most Americans getting much more than they need — 3,400 mg of sodium per day, on average – it easy to see that there is room for improvement in the American diet.

Sodium by the Numbers

1,500 mg Recommended limit for young children, middle-aged and older adults, African Americans, and people with high blood pressure
2,300 mg Recommended limit for Americans ages 14 years old and older
3,400 mg What most Americans get in their diet

Sources of Sodium

Most of the sodium in our diet comes from salt. The words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. The chemical name for salt is sodium chloride; salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride; therefore 1 teaspoon of salt is equivalent to 2,300 mg of sodium.

Salt is the source of about 90% of sodium in the diet. But most salt doesn’t come from adding salt during cooking or at the table — it comes from processed foods and restaurant meals.

 

According to national data about Americans’ eating habits, these foods are the leading contributors to the sodium young people eat:

  • pizza
  • breads and rolls
  • processed meats (such as bacon, sausage, cold cuts, and hot dogs)
  • savory snacks (such as chips and pretzels)
  • sandwiches (including burgers)
  • chicken patties, nuggets, and tenders
  • pasta mixed dishes (like spaghetti with sauce)
  • Mexican dishes (like burritos and tacos)
  • cheese

High-Sodium Foods Commonly Consumed by Children

Did any of these foods surprise you? Sometimes it’s easy to tell when foods taste salty. But other higher sodium foods are deceptive, such as bread, because they don’t taste salty. Then there’s my snack of salted mixed nuts: they taste salty, but with 120 mg per 1/4 cup serving, they have just 5% of the daily value for sodium. These examples mean that you have to pay special attention to sodium content when shopping and eating out.

The sodium content can be found on the Nutrition Facts label. You can find the percentage of daily value (% DV) on the label, or by dividing the amount of sodium in a serving by 2,300 mg. As a general guide:

General Guide for Low- and High-Sodium Foods

Sodium Scavenger Hunt

Do you know the amount of sodium in  your diet? Time to go on a scavenger hunt in your cupboards and refrigerator to locate sources of sodium. Collect at least five or six different foods, and try to get different types of foods. If you want to include a food that doesn’t have a food label (such as fresh fruit or vegetables), you can find expanded nutrient profiles in FoodData Central of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Download the Sodium Scavenger Hunt, and then use the information from the labels to complete this activity.

Here is an example:

Food Item

Serving Size

Sodium Content     (per serving)

Sodium Level

%DV

Sodium Swap
Carrots, fresh 3 oz 65 mg 3% Low sodium food – no swap needed
Tuscan-Style chicken & white bean soup

1 container (15.5 oz)

1,420 mg

62%

Lower-sodium soup

Homemade soup using no-salt added beans

What conclusions can you draw from your table? Were you able to come up with sodium swaps?

Today’s Takeaway:  Sodium is a necessary nutrient, but most Americans consume more than is recommended. Now that you know the dietary recommendation for sodium, look for our follow-up post on more sodium swaps and ways to reduce sodium in your diet.

Subscribe: Don’t miss out on our health living posts. You can subscribe by clicking on the “Subscribe” button in the lower right corner of your screen. You can also check out all the other Grab and Go Resources.

Adapted from:

American Heart Association. (2018). Sodium and kids. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/sodium-and-kids

Frank, A. P., & Clegg, D. J. (2016). Dietary guidelines for Americans—Eat less salt (JAMA Patient Page). Journal of the American Medical Association, 316(7), 782. https://doi.org10.1001/jama2016.0970

Harvard Health Publishing. (2009). Sodium, salt, and you. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sodium-salt-and-you

Harvard Health Publishing. (2014). How to stay in the sodium safe zone. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-stay-in-the-sodium-safe-zone

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). Sodium in your diet. https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/sodium-your-diet

Additional References

American Heart Association. (2016). Why so many African-Americans have high blood pressure. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/why-high-blood-pressure-is-a-silent-killer/high-blood-pressure-and-african-americans

Arbuto, N. J., Zoilkovska, A., Hooper, L., Elliott, P., Cappuccio, F. P., & Meerpohl, J. J. (2013). Effect of lower sodium intake on health: Systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 346, f1326. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f1326

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Leading causes of death. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm

Hardy, S. T., & Urbina, E. M. (2021). Blood pressure in childhood and adolescence. American Journal of Hypertension, 34(3), 242–249. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajh/phab004

Jackson, S. L., Zhang, Z., Wiltz, J. L., Loustalot, F., Ritchey, M. D., Goodman, A. B., & Yang, Q.  (2018). Hypertension among youths — United States, 2001–2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67, 758–762. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6727a2

Leyvraz, M., Chatelan, A., da Costa, B. R., Taffé, P., Paradis, G., Bovet, P., Bochud, M., & Chiolero, A. (2018). Sodium intake and blood pressure in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental and observational studies. International Journal of Epidemiology, 47(6), 1786–1810. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyy121

Kit, B. K., Kuklina, E., Carroll, M. D., Ostchega, Y., Freedman, D. S., & Ogden, C. L. (2015). Prevalence of and trends in dyslipidemia and blood pressure among US children and adolescents, 1999-2012. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(3), 272–279. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.3216

Rios-Leyvraz, M., Bovert, P., & Chiolero, A. (2020). Estimating the effect of a reduction of sodium intake in childhood on cardiovascular diseases in later life. Journal of Human Hypertension, 34, 335–337. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41371-01800137-z

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020).  Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 (9th ed.). https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials

 

Happy National Public Health Week!

4-H clover emblemWhat Does Public Health Mean to You?

by Aubry Fowler, 4-H Educator, Fairfield County

For me, health is one of the most important ‘H’s we have in the 4-H Pledge. It is about pledging our health to better living so that we can make the best better. I actually studied public health in college, so it is truly one of my favorite topics to share with 4-H members and families, and I enjoy creating events to promote its purpose.

I imagine for many people public health was just a phrase they may have heard in passing. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic changed that for many people, and public health became a buzz-worthy phrase. Outside of the pandemic, what does it mean in our daily lives? Public health affects everyone in a variety of ways from where we live (environmental health), to how we engage with friends online (social health), to what we eat (nutrition), and everything in between. When you take a step back and realize how broad public health can be, you realize how important it truly is for all of us.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) has worked to devote a time to raise awareness about public health and its impact on our lives, which is why this organization promotes National Public Health Week. This year, it is celebrated from April 5-11, 2021, with many events conducted online. To quote APHA, “We may be physically distant from each other, but now it’s more important than ever to come together. That is why our 2021 theme is ‘Building Bridges to Better Health.’ Making communities safe and healthy is public health’s top priority.”  I would encourage you to check out their website: http://www.nphw.org/ to learn about events, resources and find ways to get involved this year.

Another great way to learn more about public health may be as simple as subscribing to the Ohio 4-H Healthy Living Journal so that you can receive updates about blog posts, get ideas for future meetings or events, or learn something new. While researching the National Public Health Week activities, I was excited to learn about their Daily Themes and Fact Sheets. There is a page devoted to specific public health topics that you can ‘grab and go’ to learn more about or share with others. Some of the topics this year include advancing racial equity, strengthening community, taking care of our mental health and wellness, and building COVID-19 resilience.

I know many of us are in the full swing of our 4-H year from selecting projects, working with livestock, or finalizing enrollments, but I hope you take some time to do something to connect, create, and take action to improve our public health. Find some time to share a new health tip you learned with a friend, invite your family to take a walk outside, or practice mindfulness for a minute. The Ohio 4-H Healthy Living team is working intensely to provide research-based information that is easy to share with our 4-H community. If you haven’t have not taken a minute to look at the Grab & Go Resource page – I invite you to do that now and select a lesson you could share with your club at a meeting or event.

4-H Healthy Living Resources

The fourth H in 4-H represents Health. When reciting the 4-H pledge, members pledge their health to better living. Health as the 4th H can mean many things, including:

  • Taking a health-related project
  • Learning more about health through reading and hands-on learning
  • Adopting healthy behaviors
  • Encouraging one’s family and friends to do things to be healthier
  • Teaching others about a health-related topic
  • Making changes in the food served at club meetings and county events to reflect health recommendations
  • Learning about health-related careers
  • Talking to community leaders about health issues
  • Creating a plan to address a health-related issue in the community

Health is very important to the overall 4-H program. Whether members take a health project or not, we want involvement in 4-H to include educational experiences focused on health.

Ohio 4-H has some new healthy living resources, brought to you by the Ohio 4-H Healthy Living Design Team. These resources can help club officers and 4-H professionals add a dose of the 4th H to their meetings.

Ohio 4-H Healthy Living Officer Resource Guide

Healthy Living officers have the opportunity to lead activities that will be both fun and educational for their 4-H club. The Healthy Living Officer Resource Guide is a new 20-page resource designed to accompany the Healthy Living Officer’s Record Book. Both can be found on the Ohio 4-H Officer Resources page. The resource guide includes background information on the healthy living area, tips for planning your part in club meetings, evaluating sources of information, and a list of current healthy living projects. The remaining sections are organized by the core topics covered in the national 4-H Healthy Living mission area:

  • nutrition
  • physical activity
  • mental, emotional, and social health
  • safety and injury prevention
  • prevention of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use

Each section includes a brief description, sample activities, and sources of additional resources to learn more about the topic. You’ll find ideas for icebreakers, roll call, displays, presentation, guest speakers, and community service projects.

Healthy Living Grab and Go Resources Page

We’ve created activities that go along with many of our blog posts, and now they are organized on the Grab and Go Resources page. On the grab and go page you’ll find lesson plans that you can download and use at your next meeting. You can use one activity, or combine several related activities to create the plan for an entire meeting. The lessons are grouped together by topics that correspond with the Healthy Officer Resource Book: nutrition; physical activity; and mental, emotional, and social health.

Additional topics include:

  • The newest section is Mindful Moments, which are short, 5-minute activities that can be used at the start of any meeting.
  • COVID-19 activities address situations brought on by the pandemic.
  • Creative Well-Being activities are fun activities that exercise creativity in different ways.

As we write new blog posts, we will continue to add resources to the grab and go page, so check back often. Click the “subscribe” button to receive an email notification about new blog content.

And don’t forget that we have Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month resources on our 4-H Healthy Living webpage.

Taking Action for Health: Create an Action Plan

by Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

You have probably heard about the importance of setting personal health goals. Creating an action plan takes goal setting to the next level by focusing on a group-, organizational-, or community-level goal.

Action planning is a process that can be simplified into three related parts, represented in the image below.

  1. Identify
  2. Create
  3. Evaluate

I used the gear shapes to represent that these three parts are connected. As well, an action plan is a living document. The arrows represent that the process is not a straight line from Point A to Point B. At any time, you may have to return to an earlier step, for example, if you hit a barrier or if something doesn’t go the way you originally planned it.

Action Planning Process – Identify-Create-Evaluate

An important aspect of making a plan is to write it down. That way, you are able to refer back to it and can monitor how it’s going.

The Identify—Create—Evaluate process is outlined below. Each part has additional questions to think through as you create the plan.

Identify an Issue

There is no shortage of health issues needing attention in our communities. We are all living through the worst public health crisis in a century. Closer to home, you may have a personal connection – something you or a family member are dealing with. Perhaps it is something that has affected your local school, community, or state.

  1. Identify the issue or situation you want to address.
    • What is the problem?
  2. Identify and find the information you need.
    • Start with the facts.
  3. Identify others to be involved.
    • Who might share your concern about this issue?
    • Why should someone else care?

Here are some things to think about:

  • Are other people aware this is an issue? If not, what might convince them that it is important?
  • Who is affected? How many people are affected?
  • What can happen if we don’t do something about this issue or situation?
  • Are some people opposed to addressing this issue? Why? What might convince them otherwise?

Where can you get information?

  • Local and state health department
  • Health professionals in the community, such as school nurse
  • Community agency
  • Universities
  • Government agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Nonprofit and professional organizations, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Ranking and Roadmaps
  • Internet search (be sure to consult reputable sources of information)

Create a Plan

  1. What will you do?
    • Who do you want to reach?
    • What do you want them to do?
    • How will things be accomplished?
    • What steps are involved?
  2. Where will you do it?
  3. When will it happen? What is your timeline?
  4. Who will do it?
  5. Who or what will help you? That is, what resources do you need to carry out the plan?
  6. What are the challenges you might encounter (and how can you overcome them)?

Dream big, but be realistic about what you can accomplish with the resources you have.

Take action! Put the plan into action and keep going.

Monitor your progress so you know if you are on track or if you have to make changes.

Be flexible; as the plan unfolds, be flexible enough to change course if you encounter a barrier or are presented with a new opportunity, and revise your plan as needed.

Evaluate

It’s important to know if you met your goal.

  1. Results
    • What did you do?
    • What does success look like?
    • How can you measure it?
  2. Share
    • How and with whom will you share the results of what you did?

Today’s Take-Away: Working through these questions will help you to create an action plan. You can download the Creating an Action Plan Handout here. The beauty of this process is that it can be repeated over an over, not just with Healthy Living action plans, but on any topic. Actively involving youth in addressing health issues can build skills and effect community change.

 

Using the Nutrition Facts Label

 

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

National Nutrition Month® is an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics focuses attention on healthful eating through National Nutrition Month®. This year’s theme, Personalize Your Plate, promotes creating nutritious meals to meet individuals’ cultural and personal food preferences.

Making informed food choices and developing healthful eating habits is a year-round endeavor. The Nutrition Facts Label is a tool that can help you make good choices. The nutrition facts label appears not only on packaged foods, but on many fruits and vegetables in the produce section of the grocery store.

Sample Nutrition Facts Label

Size Up Servings

Pay attention to the serving size and the number of serving you eat or drink to discover the total number of calories and nutrients you are consuming.

  • Keep in mind that packages can–and often do–contain more than one serving. When you don’t know the serving size, it’s easy to consume more calories and nutrients than you intended.

 Consider the Calories

Calories from food provide the energy your body needs to function and grow. When you are active, you “burn” calories. To keep your body healthy, balance the number of calories you eat and drink with the number of calories your body uses.

When checking a food’s calories, remember this guide:

  • 100 calories per serving of an individual food is considered a moderate amount of calories.
  • 400 calories or more per serving of an individual food is considered high in calories.

 Choose Nutrients Wisely

The Daily Values are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed each day for adults and children 4 years of age and older. % Daily Value (%DV) is the percentage of the Daily Value for each nutrient in a serving of the food. It shows how much a nutrient in a serving of the food contributes to a total daily diet. Use %DV to see if a serving of the food is high or low in an individual nutrient and to compare food products. The nutrients featured on the label were chosen because they tend to be low in Americans’ diets.

  • 5% DV or less of a nutrient per serving is considered low.
  • 20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high.
  • Nutrients to get more of: dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.
  • Nutrients to get less of: saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees food and beverage labeling. Food labeling is required for most prepared foods, such as breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, and drinks. Nutrition labeling for raw produce (fruits and vegetables) and fish is voluntary. You can find an interactive Nutrition Facts label here.

Now that you’ve increased your label IQ, here are a few tips to capitalize on that knowledge.

Measure out single serving of snacks. Read the Nutrition Facts label on your favorite snacks and measure out single servings according to the serving size listed on the label. Keep them in resealable plastic bags or containers so you can quickly grab-and-go!

Do a label audit. Read the label on food packages in your cupboards and refrigerator. Then decide if you need to swap out items for more healthful choices, and read labels in the grocery store. Add items to your family’s shopping list that are higher in nutrients to get more of and lower in nutrients to get less of.

 Swap out one item. Check out the differences in calories and nutrients between various menu choices. Compare foods that are prepared different ways, like grilled chicken vs. fried chicken, baked potatoes vs. French fries, and compare small vs. large portions. And remember, a “super-sized” item can mean doubling (or tripling) the calories and nutrients because the serving size is larger.

You can find expanded nutrient profiles in FoodData Central of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Today’s Take-Away: Choosing healthful food and beverages is one way to take care of your physical health. The Nutrition Facts Label is a tool you can use to make healthful choices. You can download a description of the label FDA-ReadtheLabel-Infographic-English.

Adapted from:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2021). National Nutrition Month ® campaign toolkit. https://www.eatright.org/food/resources/national-nutrition-month/toolkit

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018). Nutrition facts: Read the label: Cool tips for kids. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/read-label-youth-outreach-materials

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018). Nutrition facts: Read the label leader’s guide. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/read-label-youth-outreach-materials

Five Keys to Virtual Connection

by Tyler Kessler, 4-H Educator, Adventure Central

Our entire world is connecting virtually now more than ever, and it is safe to say that virtual platforms like Zoom and Google Meet are here to stay. This move from in-person school classrooms and offices to online video-call sessions has left many people asking if we are truly able to experience meaningful personal connections during this time of isolation and heavy ‘Zooming.’ A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of many produced by various sources over the last year, supports that the loss of in-person connections is linked to increases in mental health struggles and feelings of hopelessness, particularly among young people.

Clearly, we need to be more intentional about connecting with others now more than ever before, and the good news is that we can use our online platforms to do just that! With a little creativity and intentional thinking, we can absolutely use technology in new ways to meaningfully connect with our own emotions and with our friends, teachers, and co-workers! Making time for fun activities, laughter, and getting to know one another before trying to learn can have a huge effect on how we feel and what we are able to remember. Not to mention that virtual and in-person activities that involve joy and laughter lead to the release of dopamine in our brains, which helps fight anxiety and depression!

Below are five keys for virtual connection that can help to jump-start your virtual connectivity during online sessions. Read through each and think about how you can use one or more keys to bring connections back to your virtual spaces with friends, family, and co-workers:

computer screen with list

  1. Connection before content – Fun, social-emotional interactions using games, and even GIFs found using your cell phone, at the opening and closing of virtual meetings can bring better connection with content through connections with peers and meeting hosts.
  2. Use time to make space – The world of virtual connection deprives us of much needed transition time. Coffee breaks with co-workers, walks with friends between school classes, and daily commutes typically provide our brains time to transition between tasks. As we travel quickly and efficiently from Zoom-to-Zoom, it is more important than ever to add time to assess our feelings so that we can create space for mindful transitions and connectivity.
  3. Hands-on learning is minds-on learning – We know STEM activities provide excellent opportunities for ‘hands-on, minds-on’ learning. Additionally, STEM-related concepts often parallel social emotional teaching. It is time to use out-of-the-box programming to form connections that reach across topic areas.
  4. Keep activities simple and adaptable – Have you ever heard the phrase, “Less is more?” Screens can make it harder for us to focus for long periods of time, and big learning can often come from simple activities. Do not be afraid to choose a 10-minute activity to teach that new lesson!
  5. Safe spaces create connection – Common video meeting platforms allow participants to mute their voices, turn off their cameras, and simply use ‘chat box’ features to communicate. These features can make it feel like connection cannot be powerful in the virtual environment, but they also provide users a unique way to make aspects of connecting with others feel less ‘risky,’ particularly for young people. We know that feeling safe is crucial for genuine trust and connection, and activities that utilize chat box features can create safe spaces for sharing that are not available in person.

This battle against social isolation is a difficult one, but do not forget that you can create healthy connections everywhere you are! Make a phone call to the person you have not talked with in a while. Send a text to a close friend or relative, reminding them about a special shared memory you have. Whether you are on a Zoom call for school or work, or you are sitting in your room at home with your cell phone in hand, remembering you are never alone and making the simple choice to connect with others are the most important keys for virtual connection. So, what are you waiting for? Get connected!

Each key has a downloadable activity that reinforces a connection concept. Check out these and other Grab & Go resources you can use during your Zoom or other virtual sessions!

COVID-19 Vaccine: Get the Fax about the Vax

by Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Today I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. I’m now part of the 55 million people in the U.S. who so far have received their first dose of the vaccine.

I’ve been waiting for this day for a while now, and I’m glad it finally arrived! It was painless and after waiting the required 15 minutes with no reaction, I was free to go. The whole process was very organized and efficient. Ten hours later, and I notice a very slight soreness when I lift my arm, similar to how I react to a flu vaccine. Ironically, my second appointment is 1 day shy of the first day I started working from home. It’s either been a long time or a short time ago, depending on how you look at it.

Just like when I have voted, I got a sticker that declares I’ve been vaccinated. In a way, getting the vaccine is like a vote – a vote of confidence in science. A vote that shows I’m doing my part, not only for myself, but for a future without this virus.

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work? It’s important to know the facts behind the vaccine.

The two COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use as of this writing use mRNA, which stands for messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid). Who knew that high school biology class would come in so handy? mRNA is a new approach to vaccines. mRNA vaccines take advantage of the process that cells use to make proteins in order to trigger an immune response and build immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

mRNA can most easily be described as instructions for the cell on how to make a piece of the “spike protein” that is unique to SARS-CoV-2. Because only part of the protein is made, it does not do any harm to the person vaccinated but it is helps to induce an immune response.

After the piece of the spike protein is made, the cell breaks down the mRNA strands and disposes of them using enzymes in the cell. It is important to note that the mRNA strand never enters the cell’s nucleus (the part of the cell that controls its activities and where your DNA is) or affects genetic material (DNA). mRNA vaccines DO NOT alter or modify someone’s genetic makeup.

Once displayed on the cell surface, the protein or antigen causes the immune system to begin producing antibodies and activating cells (called T-cells) to fight off what it thinks is an infection. These antibodies are specific to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which means the immune system is primed to protect against future infection.

Here are some key points about the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Like all vaccines, COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been rigorously tested for safety before being authorized for use in the United States.
  • mRNA technology is new, but not unknown. They have been studied for more than a decade.
  • mRNA vaccines do not contain a live virus and do not carry a risk of causing disease in the vaccinated person.
  • mRNA from the vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell and does not affect or interact with a person’s DNA.

Be Part of the Herd

Why do we need vaccines? You many have heard about the concept of herd immunity. This site shows what happens when a contagious disease enters an unvaccinated group.  Many members are infected because they lack immunity to the disease. The Mayo Clinic explains that herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.

When a large proportion of the population is vaccinated the spread of disease is limited. Vaccines create immunity without causing illness or resulting complications. Herd immunity makes it possible to protect the population from a disease, including those who can’t be vaccinated, such as newborns or those who have compromised immune systems. Using the concept of herd immunity, vaccines have successfully controlled deadly contagious diseases such as smallpox, polio, diphtheria, rubella, and many others. It is estimated that for COVID-19, about 75% of the population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

Herd immunity can also be reached when a sufficient number of people in the population have recovered from a disease and have developed antibodies against future infection. A large number of people would have to become infected to reach the herd immunity threshold in this way. This amount of infection could also lead to serious complications and millions of deaths, and is therefore not the desirable way to reach herd immunity.

What next?

Both COVID-19 and the vaccine are new, so there are some things we don’t know yet. We don’t know how long protection lasts for those who get infected or those who are vaccinated. We also don’t yet know whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent you from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to other people, even if you don’t get sick yourself. [Update 3/29/21: According to a study reported by the CDC, the current mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are effective for preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection in real-world conditions. Those who were fully vaccinated were 90% less likely to get infected.] What we do know is that COVID-19 has caused very serious illness and death for a lot of people.

Even after receiving a vaccination, it’s important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions.

To protect yourself and others, follow these recommendations from the CDC:

  • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others
  • Avoid crowds
  • Avoid poorly ventilated spaces
  • Wash your hands often

Two personal stories related to pandemics and vaccines:

  • A pandemic connection: My maternal grandmother had the flu during the 1918 epidemic. As I remember her stories, she was sick in bed for 3 weeks and then she recovered. Not long after that she emigrated from Italy to the U.S. I wish I had asked her more questions about her experience (I guess I didn’t know that years later I’d be living through the next global pandemic). So write down your stories and they will be there for you to share and for future generations to learn from.
  • A Pfizer connection: The vaccine I received today was the Pfizer vaccine. Pfizer’s vaccine development headquarters are located in Pearl River, New York, at what used to be Lederle Laboratories before it was acquired by Pfizer. It’s less than a mile from where I grew up. For 39 years when it was Lederle, my dad worked there as a research chemist; he worked in a lab doing tests needed before drugs were approved by the FDA. In 1963 Lederle introduced Orimune, an oral polio vaccine that built a permanent immunity to polio and eliminated the need for injections, and I remember taking this vaccine as a child. Some years later, I worked at Lederle for three summers when I was in college, packing pharmaceuticals, including Orimune, for distribution. So I know how much work goes on behind the scenes to bring these products into being. It is truly a team effort. So getting the Pfizer vaccine today was like coming full circle for me.

I think it is really interesting to learn more about the scientists behind the current vaccines’ development. Often it is the culmination of years of work before they make a breakthrough. If you are interested, you can check out these links:

I, like others, have experienced many emotions in the past year. Today was a reminder about the importance of expressing gratitude, which I wrote about on New Year’s Day. There are so many things I’m grateful for: for the scientists who worked to develop the vaccines, for the people who participated in the trials, for those who made sure it was safe, for the public health officials who have communicated the measures that we need to continue to follow. That I had a job where I could work from home. That I didn’t contract COVID-19. That every day more people are getting vaccinated – millions of people.

I think I’ll be able to add more than three slips of paper in my gratitude jar today.

Gratitude Jar

Gratitude Jar

 

Adapted from:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: mRNA Vaccine Basics and Vaccines  FAQ

College of Physicians of Philadelphia: History of Vaccines

Mayo Clinic: Herd Immunity and Coronavirus

What is Health Equity?

by Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

This month Ohio 4-H is focusing on topics related to equity. So it seems like a perfect time to address the concept of health equity.

What is health equity? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation defines health equity as making sure that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. That sounds simple doesn’t it – of course we would want everyone to be healthy.

However, it’s not that simple. There are many things that get in the way of realizing this lofty goal. When things get in the way of people reaching their full potential, we call these barriers inequities. These inequities may be things like uneven access to social, economic, or educational resources.

In their publication Creating the Healthiest Nation: Advancing Health Equity, the American Public Health Association notes that members of racial and ethnic minority groups, low-income populations, and members of the LGBTQ community often have difficulty obtaining the resources they need to be healthy. People in these groups are often exposed to more health risks such as poverty, violence, poor neighborhood conditions, and environmental health hazards. This is cause for concern because health inequities are reflected in differences in the quality of people’s lives; the rates at which they experience disease, disability, and death; the severity of disease; access to treatment; and in how long they live.

Here’s an example: We need look no further than the current situation of the coronavirus pandemic and vaccine distribution to have an example that illustrates the concept of health inequities. This situation was addressed earlier this week in an opinion piece in USA Today by Dr. Richard Besser and Dr. Julie Morita of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (and both formerly at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In this article, titled “COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Needs a Shot of Equity,” Drs. Besser and Morita pose the question “Is America’s vaccination effort reaching all of those who need to be vaccinated now?” Their answer: “From what we have seen, the answer is no.”

From the start, the coronavirus pandemic has made health inequities apparent. As Drs. Besser and Morita point out, while this pandemic is affecting every community, it is not affecting every community the same way. People of color and lower income households are disproportionately impacted in both rural and urban areas. People in vulnerable groups have suffered more severe versions of the disease, as a result of underlying health conditions. Black, Latino, and Native Americans — many of whom are front-line essential workers — are being infected, hospitalized, and dying at rates that far surpass their proportions of the population. Latino, Black, and Native American households also report disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus outbreak beyond the elevated health risks they face battling COVID-19, including household finances, jobs, health care, education, and internet connectivity.

For example:

  • Can everyone easily access the appointment slots? Not when More than 20 million people in the USA lack broadband and high-speed internet access.
  • Can everyone get to the locations where the vaccine is being administered? Not if you don’t live near a site and you don’t have a car.
  • Is the vaccine available at times when people who are working are able to get it? Not if you are a front-line worker who can’t take time from work to get to a vaccine site and wait in lines.

Equity is not the same as equality. To equalize opportunities, those with worse health and fewer resources need more efforts directed toward improving their health. The image below and this short video helps to explain the difference.

One size does not fit all: Visualizing the difference between equality and equity (Image credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)

What can be done? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to “attain his or her full health potential” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.” To achieve health equity, “obstacles to health must be removed such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, such as powerlessness and lack of access to quality education.”

No one person acting alone can eliminate health inequities. The things that need to be done involve entire systems in our society, such as health care and education. For example, one of the steps identified by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to achieve health equity is to “change and implement policies, laws, systems, environments, and practices to reduce inequities in the opportunities and resources needed to be as healthy as possible.” This means eliminating the unfair social conditions affecting individuals and institutions that give rise to the inequities.

You can’t change something if you don’t know it needs to be changed. So, as always, the first step is to be aware that health inequities exist and to look at situations through this new equity lens, as we did above with COVID-19. Another thing we need to realize is that even if it is not a problem for us doesn’t mean that other individuals or groups have the same experience as we do.

I hope this post has helped you to understand more about health equity.

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Resources:

American Public Health Association. Creating the healthiest nation: Advancing health equity. https://www.apha.org/topics-and-issues/health-equity

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health equity. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/healthequity/index.htm

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Visualizing health equity: One size does not fit all infographic. https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/infographics/visualizing-health-equity.html

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation & Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (2020, September). The impacts of coronavirus on households, by race/ethnicity. https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2020/09/the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-households-across-america.html

Connect the Dots for Mental Health

Ohio 4-H decided to focus on mental health during the month of January 2021. Mental health has always been important, but the need to focus on mental health was never more apparent than in 2020.

Throughout the month, members of the 4-H Healthy Living Design Team wrote about different dimensions of wellness. Even though our focus was on mental health, we touched on many other aspects of health– physical, emotional, social, intellectual, environmental, financial, and creative. We presented some background information, suggested strategies to address each area, and shared our own experiences.

If you look back over the month, I think you can see how all the different dimensions of wellness are related to each other. For example, one way to make mindfulness part of our day is to listen when someone is talking to us. In turn, this will lead to better social connections, which will enhance our social health. Social connection creates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being. In fact, research suggest that the quality of our social ties might be the single biggest predictor of our well-being. We can reach out to friends when we’re feeling stressed; in turn, we can check in with our family and friends to be the person that they turn to when they need support.

Of course, physical activity helps keep our body healthy. But that’s not all it does. Engaging in physical activity is recommended as a way to manage stress, which addresses our mental health. And even better when we can take that activity outdoors. Then we can practice mindfulness when we take in the sights, sounds, and smells when we’re walking outdoors.

Self-care strategies keep us healthy in many ways: in addition to physical activity, getting enough sleep; eating healthful foods; and making time for fun, learning, and creative activities are things we can do. Some of these strategies may require us to establish better habits to make them a regular part of our lifestyle.

The coronavirus pandemic has been challenging for everyone. It’s easy to think of what we didn’t get to do. However, I think you can probably think of some good things that happened last year. Among my family and friends there were high school and college graduations, weddings, new babies, new homes, new jobs, and other milestones. They may have looked different, but life kept on going. It’s important to pause and recognize the good things that happen every day, no matter how small.  Another way to see the connections is in the COPE with COVID suggestions put forth by Dr. Bern Melnyk, Chief Wellness Officer at The Ohio State University and Dean of the College of Nursing. You can see how these suggestions incorporate aspects of physical, mental, emotional, and social health, as well as gratitude and mindfulness.

Today’s Take-Away: Look for ways to pledge your health to better living. The resources developed for Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month are posted on our webpage. But even though the month is over, we will continue to share information, ideas, and inspiration about healthy living topics throughout the year.

Yours in Health,

Signature

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development