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Ceres Community Project Increases Healthy Eating Among Clients & Teen Volunteers

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Ceres Community Project
Increases Healthy Eating Among Clients & Teen Volunteers

By Deborah Ramelli 

Participating in Ceres’ Healing Meals for Healthy Communities program leads to significant increases in fruit and vegetable consumption for clients and teen volunteers according to a 2 ½ year program evaluation study released by the nonprofit based in Sonoma County, California. Funded by a California Specialty Crop Block Grant through the California Department of Food & Agriculture, the study estimates that the 740 clients and 465 youth who were engaged in the program during the grant period will eat an additional 3,962,400 servings of fruits and vegetables over the next ten years thanks to new habits they adopted. The added benefit to the local food economy comes to at least $200,000 annually.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 56% of all deaths in the United States – from heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes – are directly related to poor eating habits, lack of physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, malnutrition is a serious concern for many people struggling with a serious illness, especially cancer. Being malnourished makes it less likely that people will heal, worsens their quality of life and lengthens the process of recovery. A study by MANNA, a nutrition service agency in Philadelphia, found that average monthly health care costs dropped by $10,754 after AIDS/HIV patients began receiving meal delivery.  [Gurvey J et al. Journal of Primary Care & Community Health 2013]  Healthy social relationships also play a vital role in our well-being. A review of 148 different studies found that people with strong social relationships were 50% more likely to be alive an average of eight years later than those who did not. [Holt-Lunstad J et al. PLOS Medicine, July 2010]

Ceres Community Project’s goal is to broaden understanding that healthy organic foods and heart-centered connections with others provide the foundation for a healthy life, and to educate clients, teens and the larger community about diet and lifestyle factors that create health for us, our families and the planet. The group’s core program Healing Meals for Healthy Communities provides 85,000 nourishing organic and whole food meals annually to primarily low-income people struggling with a health crisis and their families along with nutrition education and the caring support of the community.  The meals relieve stress, help prevent malnutrition, improve quality of life, help patients feel cared for, and improve eating habits.

All of the meals are prepared by 450 teen volunteers from nearly 60 schools who work at a ¾ acre organic food garden and 3 commercial kitchen sites in Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California.  Working under the guidance of adult mentors, youth learn to grow, prepare and eat healthy organic whole foods and about the connection between what they eat and the health of people and planet. The program strengthens youth leadership and develops the skills young people need to be successful in life and work.

The program evaluation study found that after participating just 3 hours a week for six months, youth increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by 16%. Clients increased consumption by 23% after receiving on average 14 weeks of meal delivery that includes four complete dinners, a soup, a salad and a healthy dessert. Other significant findings included:

• 98% of youth are confident that they can prepare a healthy meal from scratch.

• The share of youth who say they eat fast food daily, frequently or occasionally drops 54%, from 28% to 13% of youth. The share of youth who drink sodas on that basis drops 38%, from 47% to 29% of youth.

• Youth are 50% more likely to be encouraging their friends to make healthier food choices on a daily or frequent basis and 44% more likely to be encouraging their family to make healthier foods choices.

• The percentage of clients who report cooking full meals from scratch either daily or frequently increased 47% from 59% to 87% of all clients.

• The following percentage of clients report that they are eating LESS of these unhealthy foods: packaged/processed foods – 74%, sugar – 73%, fast food – 72%

• The percentage of clients who say they eat fast food occasionally or more drops 41%, from 32% of all clients to 19%.

• More than 75% of clients said that each of nine benefits of the program were either somewhat or extremely important to them, with the four most important being:
o   I didn’t have to cook – 87% said this was extremely important and 13% said it was somewhat important.
o   The healthy food helped me recover more quickly – 83% said this was extremely important and 17% said it was somewhat important
o   The meals helped me feel cared for and less isolated – 84% said this was extremely important and 9% said it was somewhat important.
o   What I learned about nutrition and healthy eating – 67% said this was extremely important and 28% said it was somewhat important.

Ceres Community Project’s Healing Meals for Healthy Communities program is a powerful and cost-effective strategy for increasing the healthy eating behaviors and social networks that are the foundation of good health for people and communities.  For the low-income people with illness that Ceres serves, research outside of this study has shown increases in health outcomes and significant decreases in health care costs when clients are provided with nourishing whole foods meals during illness.  In addition to adopting healthier cooking and eating habits, teens who volunteer at Ceres gain important lessons related to volunteerism, community, teamwork and leadership.

The complete study is available at http://ceresproject.org/HealingMeals/USDA_Report_2014.pdf and an Executive Summary can be found at http://ceresproject.org/HealingMeals/ExecutiveSummaryUSDA.pdf.

 

For more information about Ceres Community Project visit www.ceresproject.org.