The Texas A&M Institute for Advancing Health Through Agriculture (IHA) has recently secured more than $2 million in funding to support several research initiatives promoting social and behavioral healthy living. The projects aim to enhance physical activity and healthy eating habits while fostering positive youth development in economically challenged middle schools. In addition, a separate study will explore the impact of community cafes and non-profit eateries operating on a pay-what-you-can basis on promoting healthy diets and food security.
The funding comes from various sources, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Downstate Health Sciences University, and Texas A&M AgriLife Research (Hatch grants). Recipients include IHA researchers Rebecca Seguin-Fowler, Ph.D., Alexandra L. MacMillan Uribe, Ph.D., Jacob S. Szeszulski, Ph.D., and Chad Rethorst, Ph.D.
IHA Director Patrick Stover, Ph.D., hailed the grant awards as a testament to the significance of the Institute’s visionary work. He stated, “Our mission is to reduce diet-related chronic diseases and the associated healthcare costs via agriculture, considering both the environment and our economy. This necessitates community-engaged multisector partnerships, exemplified in this new portfolio of funded projects across the IHA Healthy Living research team.”
One funded project is “Strong Teens for Healthy Schools Change Club: A Civic Engagement Approach to Improving Physical Activity and Healthy Eating Environments,” led by MacMillan Uribe, Szeszulski, and their colleagues. The project will refine the Strong Teens curriculum for delivery and assess its effectiveness in promoting physical activity, nutrition, and positive youth development-related behaviors and environmental outcomes in economically disadvantaged middle schools.
Another notable project, “The Produce Prescription for Healthy Blood Pressure Program to Manage Hypertension Among West Dallas, Texas Residents,” aims to investigate the effects of a produce prescription program on blood pressure levels among adults with hypertension in an underserved community in West Dallas. As a result, the team anticipates decreased blood pressure levels and healthcare utilization frequency and cost.
Additional grants were awarded for a project focusing on community cafes and how they impact food security and diet quality among patrons with food insecurity. Another award was granted to carry out data analysis on existing projects, enabling further applications for grants that align with Healthy Living’s mission to enhance health, reduce chronic disease, and promote health equity through developing, evaluating, and disseminating community-engaged intervention programs.