Tackling childhood obesity in rural Oregon

To counter the alarming growth in childhood obesity across the country, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently announced $500 million additional dollars to its longstanding campaign to achieve a healthy weight for all children.

These new funds bring the total to an unprecedented $1 billion since 2007 to build a culture of health across communities in the U.S. and ensure that all children have access to healthier foods and opportunities to be physically active.

But because children in rural America suffer from obesity at rates that far exceed their urban peers, solutions that fit rural communities are especially needed because rural communities and families face unique challenges, such as limited health promotion resources.

In rural Union County, Oregon, healthcare professionals, educators, parents, grandparents, youth, and other community members have teamed up with OHSU’s School of Nursing to tackle the problem of obesity in kids and adolescents.

The partnership is part of a study named Students Now Advocating to Create (Healthy Snacking) Zones — SNACZ, a program that prepares youth to become advocates promoting healthy snacking among their peers and in their schools and communities. Funding support for the SNACZ project is being provided by an Agricultural & Food Research Initiative Grant from the USDA National Institute of Food & Agriculture.

An example of the power of this partnership is the success of a recent community educational event, Fuel Your Body to Win. Designed to counteract media messages often associated with sports that encourage high-sugar/high-fat snacks and beverages, this event brought together top athletic trainers from Oregon State University, Eastern Oregon University coaches, and OHSU scientists for a workshop on the importance of healthy eating for optimal sports performance.

During this two-day event, students from middle schools across Union County attended keynote presentations by well-known athletic stars, participated in “myth-buster stations” and break-out sessions with keynote speakers, assessed their nutrition knowledge and habits through interactive exhibits, and signed a Fuel Your Body to Win banner to commit to healthier food choices.

Childhood obesity is a critical and complex public health problem – but it’s a problem that can be solved.

The OHSU School of Nursing and its partners in Union County are leading the way in showing how communities can come together to build a culture of health and ensure that all children – especially those in rural areas of Oregon – can grow up at a healthy weight.


Nancy Findholt, PhD, RN is an associate professor with the OHSU School of Nursing, La Grande campus and coordinates the Union County SNACZ project.