Kean Leads County Caregivers in Healthy Harvest
By Barbara Bullington
They assembled in the kitchen and demonstration area, waiting to play with their food. Soon they would learn how to use bananas, peanut butter, raisins and other foodstuffs to construct edible caterpillars.
Those waiting were not children. They were adults. Nearly 40 full-grown participants gathered in Greenville’s Hope Lodge in November for Healthy Harvest, a training event for workers who provide childcare in home facilities and daycare centers.
The brainchild of Linda Kean, associate professor in ECU’s School of Communication, Healthy Harvest was aimed at reducing the potential for obesity and encouraging positive eating habits among the 2- to 5-year-old population in Pitt County. She developed the program as part of her collaboration with Pitt Partners for Health, a community partnership with representatives from local churches, businesses, community members and human service agencies.
Pitt Partners had received a Healthy Carolinians Partnership grant, which specifically required recipients to work with an academic expert. Serving as that expert, Kean developed communication plans to target at-risk or underserved Pitt County populations with motivating health messages. She developed campaign plans for four of five Pitt Partners for Health priority areas – nutrition and physical activity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, substance abuse and older adult health.
|Participants in the Healthy Harvest training program for Pitt County child care workers learn to create healthy snacks for children in their care. Linda Kean of ECU's School of Communication developed the program. (Contributed photo)
Healthy Harvest was part of the nutrition and physical activity plan. The program worked with caregivers to encourage healthy eating among the children in their care. “We have a pretty significant problem in eastern North Carolina,” Kean said, adding that almost 20 percent of 2- to-4-year-olds in Pitt County are overweight.
Healthy Harvest participants received information about appropriate portion sizes. They also received take-home kits that would enable them to continue learning about, practicing and passing on the information they received about healthier eating. The kits contained information about My Pyramid – a children’s nutrition guide from the USDA – and related games, along with sets of measuring cups and spoons, ingredients for healthy snacks, and recipes for foods that children can participate in preparing.
While Pitt Partners for Health and Kean focused much of their efforts in the areas of nutrition and physical activities, much was accomplished as well in the heart disease area, through a campaign first developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association. That campaign was entitled, “Act in Time.” Materials regarding the early warning signs of heart attacks were sent to physicians to distribute to their patients and also to local faith based organizations to improve the knowledge of those at risk. Kean also wrote an overall guide to campaign planning intended to assist Pitt Partners with their future communication goals.
Grant activities were carried out from August through November. “We’ve started a couple of the balls rolling,” Kean said, noting that the organization can continue to use many of the suggestions and ideas, and apply for future grants to help carry them out.
Kean’s efforts for the organization spilled over into her work at ECU. “It gave me an opportunity to apply my research as well as what I teach in the classroom,” said Kean, who teaches public relations theory and public relations strategies courses. Her research is primarily focused on the development and evaluation of health communication campaigns.
Kean has gotten ECU students involved as well. Cherry Smith, an undergraduate public relations student from the School of Communication, and LaTangee Knight, who is working toward a master’s in health education and promotion, both assisted with the implementation of the communication plan strategies. The students were able to experience firsthand “what makes an effective campaign as applied to a real world situation,” Kean stated.
The project provided a good example, Kean said, of the type of public relations campaigns that might be completed by students who enroll in the School of Communication’s new master’s degree program, which has an emphasis on health communication. The program will begin offering courses in the fall of 2006.
“The degree will allow (the students) to bridge two areas—communication and health,” noted Kean, adding that students might be taking part in very similar types of health-related campaigns within the community.
Kean found her role as a consultant for Pitt Partners for Health fulfilling and has plans to continue providing ideas. For instance, she stated that events similar to the Healthy Harvest could potentially be held quarterly. The group also plans to conduct a monthly recipe contest for childcare providers who could submit their best healthy snack or meal recipe. Thus, day care providers across the county might soon be embarking on other creative ways to make healthy food fun as children benefit in more ways than they realize.
So far, a number of individuals and organizations have helped out with or contributed to the Pitt Partners for Health campaigns. Smart Start, ChildLinks and the Department of Health were integrally involved in making the Healthy Harvest event a success, Kean said.
For more information about Pitt Partners for Health, visit their website at www.pittpartnersforhealth.org.
Information on the MA in Communication with an emphasis in health communication can be accessed at www.ecu.edu/comm/.