Forkways #7: Nutritional Influences of Indviduals, Communities, and Schools
Individual, Community, and School Influences on Childhood Nutrition in Iron County, Utah.
The world is evolving. Through the globalization of society combined with broader access to information, people encounter difficulty with data overload. Certain cooking practices, health techniques, and ideas about nature and agriculture are being overlooked, lost, or outright forgotten. As our access to information increases, our desire to maintain knowledge decreases. Skills are rarely mastered and often left to a Google search on demand. The availability of technology is inspiring for some, a hurdle for others. One of the greatest casualties of the technological age is the decentralization of local communities. Technology provides humans with so much, as individuals find more connections online than they do in real life; where people stare at their phones and look for their next pleasure fix, it still can’t solve many of the world’s problems. In some cases it is making them worse.
Hunger is an issue faced throughout the world. One of the greatest sorrows of the international food system is that in a world of plenty, more people are unsure about where their next meal will come from than ever before. While starvation is rarely an issue in the United States, connecting individuals with quality foods is often a challenge. Unhealthy calories are cheap and easy to find. Those of a low socioeconomic status have to work hard to afford and utilize fresh ingredients. As geographically local community structures begin to breakdown due to globalization and the access provided through technology, traditional orders and institutions break down resulting in a community gap.
A knowledge, attitudes, and practices (KAP) survey was utilized for this research because of the lack of an existing study in our area from which organizations and future projects can inform their work. The research question was: What are the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to food and nutrition held by parents and caregivers of elementary school children in Iron County? This research is important because it investigates the nutritional attitudes and meal practices in Iron County. This research helps community organizations and research teams understand what parents and caregivers know about nutrition, what their nutritional priorities and goals are, and how they actually feed their children. AmeriCorps Vista supplied the research team with food insecurity statistics. These are based on reduced and free lunch qualification throughout the school district, but these numbers don’t connect information on an individual level. The Iron County Care & Share provided a snapshots of hunger in the state, again using compiled statistics that were concerning but disconnected from the human component. Like many previous endeavors, the research for this project is based on a small, local sample but is one of the first known to be done in this area. Because a nutritional KAP survey had not been produced and distributed for this area previously, the existence of one allows for a baseline understanding of childhood nutritional understanding in our area. Though hunger and food insecurity statistics for the county are accessible, this survey provides a better insight into the individual anonymous respondents, and allows connections to be drawn between knowledge, attitudes, and practices and demographic data. Inspired by existing research, there is hope to implement similar programs locally in order to collaborate, build, and improve the sense of community.
Previous research often focuses on low socioeconomic status and childhood nutrition, and this is also a concern for the local demographic, but focus on only these populations fails to consider the scope of community influences on childhood nutritional practices; including exposure to fresh produce, livestock, and food growing practices in a social setting. The results of this survey are critical for identifying issues where knowledge can be increased and practices can be improved, but also to understanding how this survey failed to connect with some of the most needy local population. These results expose multiple paths to assisting the community and will allow for customized research-based solutions to the problems of hunger and nutrition in the community. Which may include a broader participation in existing community practices, including the local culture that is involved in homesteading, gardening, and food storage. Many families have private gardens from which they eat frequently and can or otherwise preserve. But these practices often take place in only a familial and occasionally religious settings. When done privately these practices can lack context to impact the individuals involved and the greater community as a whole.
Through this research I hope to understand how nutritional habits might be impacting our local community and attempt to identify or develop resources that might be able to fill the knowledge and practices gaps. In the local area there are many services and programs available to residents of the county. These support systems are already helping many in need, but the breakdown of local community creates both an issue with utilization of programs and the volunteer, funding, and donations that are needed to keep the programs running. Each local program faces different issues, but lack of collaboration was echoed through most existing programs. How can our research team be an instrument for bridge building throughout the community? We need to translate larger goals into small, easy to achieve steps with motivated individuals ready to commit to projects for extended periods of time.
Connecting children with healthy food can be a challenge because of the series of gatekeepers. The best way to gain access to and through these gatekeepers was to work on a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) project. The research team helps identify problems and uses research techniques that provide solutions to those problems. The goal is to empower community members and support local institutions. One of the primary concerns I have for this area is the breakdown of a cohesive community. We live in a community that is intent on moving from one place to the next. Few are here to invest in the longevity of this place. Jobs are a huge factor in people leaving this area. It is hard to make a living wage. My goal was to create a project that would allow the members of our community to have access to education on food and nutrition and possibly better understand the resources available to them. Through the KAP survey the hope was to connect parents of elementary school children with education and resources that would allow both the family and child to make better nutritional choices. Because most children are reliant on their parents for nutrition, a combination of education works best. Brainstorm programs to increase knowledge of nutrition, bring nutrition education to public school settings, and connect schools with local produce. Especially because food habits created early in life will stick with most people throughout their adulthood.