As we toss off the dark days of winter, we’re celebrating the return of warmth and daylight by highlighting Land-grant University partners that contribute to the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is committed to supporting innovative solutions that allow Americans to gain access to the health and wellness resources they need.
University of Alaska Cooperative Extension adapted instructional methods during the pandemic to bring food safety information to a variety of audiences and help Alaska keep rates of foodborne illness low. From home canners to kitchen managers, participants accessed information safely online during the pandemic and increased their knowledge and confidence regarding food safety best practices.
The information is critical as Alaska has one of the nation's highest rates of botulism, which occurs in low-acid foods. Many Alaskans live a subsistence lifestyle or supplement their diets with fish and game meat. Alaska also has a large military population, and most have not previously preserved game meat or fish. The state has an average of at least one death every three years, with the most recent occurring in 2019. It is particularly important to teach people how to safely preserve local staples.
Kansas State University Research and Extension launched Walk Kansas, a statewide, eight-week, team-based, health initiative founded on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program is important as physical inactivity and poor dietary habits have been linked to many chronic diseases and adverse health conditions as well as to psychosocial problems.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, in 2021, 985 teams with 5,467 people participated. Over the eight weeks, 755,234 total miles were recorded, and 84% participants said they reached the minimum goal of at least 30 minutes of physical activity for five or more days per week. Eighty-two percent of participants were confident they would continue this amount of physical activity over the next six months.
Purdue University Extension delivered Youth Mental Health First Aid, an eight-hour course for adults of farm families interested in learning about youth mental health issues and farm stress. The course is important as half of all chronic mental health conditions develop by age 14. Farming is chronically plagued with stressors of weather, regulations, input costs and market prices. Increasing financial strain results in chronic stress, anxiety and depression for farm families, threatening the livelihood and heritage of family farms. The pandemic compounded mental health issues.
More than 1,550 of the participants reported increased understanding of the impact of stress on the body; confidence in identifying signs and symptoms of stress in someone; knowledge of where to send someone for help; confidence communicating with someone experiencing stress; understanding of suicide warning signs; and knowledge of current agricultural financial situations. Participants were taught the physical impact of stress and coping and communication skills, including breathing techniques that help release tension and reduce stress; suicide information and how to have a conversation about it; how to talk to someone in a positive and empathetic way; and how to approach a stressed farmer and high stress situation on a farm setting.