AHW Funds Research About Nutrition Health in Wisconsin

March 15, 2024 Posted by AHW Endowment

Learn about AHW-funded research on nutrition health that is improving health outcomes in Wisconsin.

March is National Nutrition Month, and a reminder of the crucial role nutrition plays in our overall health. It's also an important time to discuss the significance of ensuring equitable access to nutritious food for all Wisconsin communities. High-quality nutrition is essential for providing our bodies with the nutrients needed to support vital systems such as the immune system, muscles, skeletal structure, blood circulation, and nerves. Without it, people can become more susceptible to illnesses and diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Nutrition is a critical health issue in Wisconsin. While some communities have grocery stores stocked with nutritious products, produce markets, and nutrition-focused community resources, others experience barriers to nutrition. In rural areas, there can be a limited number of grocery stores and fewer healthy options. And in low-income urban communities, food deserts can be frequent, with limited fresh and affordable produce available. Among these populations, lack of access to healthy foods exacerbates existing health issues.

Read on to learn how the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment’s (AHW’s) 2024 Seed Grant Funding is supporting research about nutrition health that will improve nutrition security for all Wisconsin residents, increase access to nutritious foods across our state, and introduce early nutrition education for youth and their families.

New AHW-Funded Research on Nutrition Health in Wisconsin

Building and Reinforcing a Community-Based Nutrition Collaborative

Rock County is the second-most obese county in Wisconsin, with 67% of adults being overweight or obese. More than 35% of Rock County’s population lacks access to a large grocery store, and many residents do not live near healthy food retailers.

With $50,000 in AHW Seed Grant Funding, the Nutrition Collaborative of Rock County (NCRC) will work alongside Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) primary academic partner Christopher J. Simenz, MS, PhD (Institute for Health and Equity), and members of the Rock County community to improve the food system.

Through this project, NCRC will participate in community events, conduct focus groups, and establish a community innovation event that will invite community members to plan sustainable initiatives around food insecurity. By connecting with and empowering community members to participate in creating solutions for the county’s food insecurity challenges, the organizations behind the NCRC—including Rock County Public Health Department, Stateline WYMCA, and UW-Madison Extension-Rock County—will engage Rock County residents in efforts to increase food access county-wide.

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MedEd 2.0: Developing Community-Based Medical School Training to Prevent Childhood Obesity

Over the past 50 years, the percentage of obese children and adolescents in the U.S. has tripled to 18.5%, and many Black, indigenous people of color (BIPOC) populations experience even higher rates. Childhood obesity affects more than 14.4 million children and adolescents, compromising their current and future health. In Wisconsin, 31% of youth are overweight or obese, with that rate increasing to 48.5% of youth living at or below the poverty level.

Though physician-led obesity prevention interventions could decrease childhood obesity in our communities, there is limited nutrition and nutrition counseling training for medical students here in Wisconsin and in the rest of the U.S. Through a one-year project made possible with $49,984 in AHW Seed Grant Funding, MCW pediatric clinicians are partnering with FoodRight, Inc. to accelerate implementation of the MedEd2.0 program: training medical students to deliver FoodRight’s classroom-based culinary education program.

This research about nutrition health, led by MCW primary academic partner Stuart Wong, MD (Medicine), will test a community-engaged nutrition medical education program that explores the impact of MCW’s medical student community engagement on Milwaukee Public School students and their families, through FoodRight’s evidence-based culinary nutrition education program. As part of this collaborative project, MCW medical students will gain knowledge and fundamental skills for understanding how to manage childhood obesity in light of children’s environments, and the participating children and their families will gain valuable nutrition education that can positively impact their health.

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An Assessment of Nutrition Security among Residents in Rural Eau Claire County

In Eau Claire County, 40% of residents live in rural settings and experience high rates of both obesity and food insecurity. To address systematic nutrition security challenges and improve health outcomes for rural residents in the county, community-informed programs, practices, and policy recommendations are needed.

Through their project, the Eau Claire County Health Department will partner with MCW primary academic partner David A. Nelson, PhD (Family Medicine), and nine community partners to create a comprehensive nutrition security assessment. The assessment will focus on rural areas surrounding the city of Augusta, where poverty rates are significantly higher than elsewhere in the county. With $49,988 in AHW Seed Grant Funding, the project will thoroughly assess the current programs, policies, and structures related to nutrition security for Eau Claire County’s rural communities.

The project partners will use this information to develop recommendations, best practices, and next steps to increase food security in rural Eau Claire County and promote health equity for all community members.

Community Perspectives on Addressing Food Insecurity

Here in Wisconsin, 12.6% of children experience food insecurity, and in Milwaukee County, 25.5% of children do, putting them at risk of being hospitalized more frequently and becoming sick more often. In addition, a lack of adequate nutrition can disrupt children’s ability to concentrate at school, and they are likely to experience higher levels of emotional and behavioral issues.

To improve food security, cross-sectoral collaborations across food and health systems are critical. With $49,042 in AHW Seed Grant Funding, the Food Security and Health Pilot Collaborative—a partnership working to strengthen communication between food systems and healthcare systems—will explore a food outreach specialist model in a medical clinic as a method for connecting families to FoodShare, Wisconsin’s supplemental nutrition program.

The project, led by MCW primary academic partner, Constance Gundacker, MD, MPH (Pediatrics), and Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, will also engage the community and service providers in data about food security to build a better understanding of this important issue. Through their work, project partners will develop a thorough understanding of food security and its root causes, and create lasting solutions.

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Food for Healthier Birth Outcomes

Between 2016 and 2018, almost 50% of all infant deaths and 52% of all Black infant deaths in Milwaukee County were due to preterm birth. Many factors influence maternal and infant health, and research has shown that access to and education about optimal foods and balanced nutrition plays a significant role in the development and sustaining health.

In efforts to improve maternal and infant health and outcomes, Food for Health, Inc., and MCW primary academic partner Anna Palatnik, MD (Obstetrics & Gynecology), are establishing an immersive experience to support optimal health for pregnant people at high risk of adverse birth outcomes in Milwaukee County. Supported by $50,000 in AHW Seed Grant Funding, the Maternal Health Management Program will provide patients with nutrition and lifestyle education and resources, personal health coaching, health screenings, and peer support, using digital technology to reinforce their learnings, track progress, and report data.

Project partners hope to create an innovative partnership that will improve the health and well-being of low-income pregnant people through their exciting and innovative food-as-medicine program.

Developing Skills of Wisconsin Dietetic Professionals to Meet Evolving Needs of Nutrition-Insecure Clients

Marginalized communities are more likely to deal with food insecurity and inadequate amounts of food. To help Wisconsin’s nutrition and dietetics professionals better promote health and well-being in communities that struggle with nutrition security, the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (WAND) is using a $49,993 AHW Seed Grant to develop a curriculum that will focus on cultural humility, systems change, advocacy, and leadership.

Through this project, WAND and its community partners, working with MCW primary academic partner Christopher J. Simenz, MS, PhD (Institute for Health and Equity), will equip WAND members with education and opportunities to develop sustainable and scalable programs, education, community impact tools, and novel community connections. The new curriculum will enable WAND members to build upon their advocacy skills for individuals facing nutrition insecurity, leading to the development of best practice strategies aimed at improving nutrition security in Wisconsin communities.

Improving Nutrition Health for All Wisconsin Residents

AHW is proud to support innovative projects aimed at improving access to nutritious foods, promoting early nutrition education, and building on the skills of health professionals to address nutrition insecurity in the state. By supporting research about nutrition health, AHW is contributing to a future where all Wisconsinites have the opportunity to lead healthy lives with proper nutrition.

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