The Youth CAN (Change.Activity.Nutrition.) project engages and empowers adolescents to become agents of change for health within their community. Students become active researchers through youth-led participatory action research (YPAR), an innovative approach to youth-driven community assessment and project development.
To engage low-income, urban youth to identify an issue; connect with community stakeholders; and propose, develop, and implement a community-based project to promote healthy eating and active living.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
Two cohorts of high school students were recruited to conduct community assessments; cohort 1 (n = 20) consisted of students from a neighborhood high school and cohort 2 (n = 30) included participants in a summer leadership program at a local, non-profit organization.
Youth shared their experiences through multiple mediums of YPAR: PhotoVoice (photography), Spoken Word (poetry), and Street Art (graffiti-style artwork). Project themes were compiled and used to facilitate discussions between youth and community stakeholders using the World Café method. Perceived barriers and facilitators to healthy eating and active living were explored and discussion outputs were synthesized into common themes to determine potential community-based projects.
Students’ projects were displayed in an exhibit to inspire dialogue for the World Café. PhotoVoice (n = 32), Spoken Word (n = 8), and Street Art (n = 10) projects portrayed the lived experiences of youth in their community. The World Café consisted of discussions driven by youth (n = 20) with input from community stakeholders (n = 20). Themes included addressing the current school lunch environment, implementing community gardens, and introducing composting at schools. Students are currently working with community stakeholders and researchers to design and implement a community project.
Youth empowerment is fundamental in building connections within the community and yielding community projects to promote health. Future research efforts should incorporate multiple applications of YPAR into nutrition education programs to engage a broader youth audience.