U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently announced an investment of more than $5 million to support projects that impact diet, nutrition and chronic disease prevention. The Rutgers project, “People, Plants, and The Planet: A Multi-Method Study to Develop, Implement & Evaluate a Food & Climate Change Intervention to Empower Adolescents to Make Healthy & Sustainable Plant-Based Food Choices,” was awarded $298,290.
Rutgers principal investigator (PI) Sara Elnakib, Department of Family and Community Health Sciences educator and department head, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Passaic County; and co-PIs Ethan Schoolman, assistant professor in the Department of Human Ecology; and Shauna Downs, assistant professor in Rutgers School of Public Health, Department of Health Systems and Policy, and Investigator Peggy Policastro, director-NJHKI Culinary Literacy and Nutrition and Rutgers Dining, Nutrition Services will develop and pilot test a food, human health and climate health intervention to reduce the prevalence of obesity and associated chronic diseases among adolescents.
“In 2020, New Jersey became the first state to require public schools to include climate change education in the K-12 curriculum. This project is therefore designed in part to fill a need that has been specifically identified by the government of the State of New Jersey,” said Elnakib. “Additionally, by exploring the connection of environmental motivators to increase plant-based food choices in adolescents, there will be an opportunity for novel multifaceted interventions that include sustainability labeling, planetary health curriculum, and climate messaging to improve student food choice and decrease chronic disease risk as part of future work.”
“Over the years, public and private organizations have devoted immeasurable resources and research to finding causes, treatments and cures for chronic diseases,” said NIFA Director Carrie Castille. “We know that two of the most important factors in preventing chronic disease are a nutritious diet and a healthy lifestyle. Investing in integrated research, education and Extension programs that seek to improve diet and nutrition, while working to prevent chronic disease, is a critical component of NIFA’s work. Outcomes of these projects will have long-lasting impacts on health and wellness of Americans nationwide.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites chronic disease as the leading cause of death in the United States and a leading driver in annual health care costs.
This fiscal year 2021 investment of a total of $5,750,782 is part of NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s Diet, Nutrition and Prevention of Chronic Disease grant program. Projects seek to develop, implement and evaluate innovative research, educational and outreach strategies to improve eating patterns that support chronic disease prevention.