Food Explorers program kicks off healthy eating in Rockingham County Schools


Lizzy Eychner samples Apple Dunkers as part of the Food Explorers program

As parents and students crowded the halls of Rockingham County Schools for Open House, they were greeted by a host of healthy new lunch menu items.

“That’s so good!” said Lizzy Eychner, a Rockingham County student, as she tried the new Apple Dunkers her cafeteria will be offering this year.

The Open House was the kickoff to Food Explorers, a research partnership between the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP), Rockingham County Schools, and Chef Cyndie Story. The program is funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation  and the Reidsville Area Foundation.

Food Explorers is a  social marketing campaign, and is designed to promote healthy lunch menus and increased fruit and vegetable consumption at school. The campaign is deployed in tandem with  upgrades to school cafeteria equipment, new fruit and vegetable recipes and child nutrition staff training.

“Interventions aimed at changing school food in the past have not focused on marketing the changes to kids, parents, and school staff,” said Linden Thayer, a doctoral student in nutrition and policy at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and the project manager of the study. She added that this often means that school lunch programs lose student participation because students and parents are upset by unsolicited menu changes.

“We focus on selling the idea of changes to the school lunch menu to kids, teachers, and parents to try to prevent backlash and promote the new healthy options,” said Thayer.

So far the program has been a hit among students, parents and staff alike.Logo

Third and fourth grade students in the program will be issued an Explorers Passport at the beginning of the year, and new fruit and vegetable trading cards every week. When the student tries one of the 39 new fruits and vegetables offered in the lunchroom, he or she will receive a stamp in their passport. Students will have a chance to review each new food to determine their favorites. They can become Master Explorers and earn rewards if they participate in the passport program and trading card game and try new food throughout the school year.

“We believe the Masters Explorers incentive program will significantly increase student consumption of fruits and vegetables,” said Thayer.

The research team is led by Alice Ammerman, Ph.D., director of HPDP and a professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Thayer. Seth Noar, Ph.D., and Heidi Hennink-Kaminski, Ph.D., from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, will be leading the social marketing portion of the program. Undergraduate and graduate students from both schools are also working on the project.

The research team spent 9 months talking with students, parents and teachers about how to structure the program.

“We combined data gathered from focus groups with 4th and 5th grade students, and in-depth interviews with parents, teachers, administrators, and school lunch staff in Rockingham,” Thayer said.  “We tested several campaign ideas with students in focus groups and then used the focus group feedback to develop the final project idea.”

Students who bring lunch from home will be able to participate in the Food Explorers program by taking free samples of all new foods. However, Thayer said one of the program’s goals was to increase interest in school lunches.

“An increase in participation in school lunch would be a first because previous school meal programs have all resulted in reduced participation resulting in a loss of money to the lunch program,” Thayer said.

The Food Explorers program will continue until the spring, and researchers will begin to gather follow-up data to determine the program’s impact in April 2014.


For more information, contact Sonya Sutton, HPDP Communications Specialist, at; 919-966-4118.

Zachary Freshwater

HPDP researcher named Gerontological Society of America Fellow

Mary Altpeter

Mary Altpeter

HPDP Research Fellow Mary Altpeter was awarded fellow status with the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) in July. Altpeter has been an active member of the organization since early 2000 and has served on several national level GSA committees.

Fellow status is the highest class of membership within the society, and is an acknowledgment of outstanding work in gerontology. Every year existing fellows nominate individuals that meet rigorous requirements that take into consideration service, education, experience, and contribution to gerontology.

Altpeter has attended multiple GSA symposia as well as workshop and poster presentations. She has also served as a reviewer for GSA-related journals and maintained involvement with GSA sister organization, the Association of Gerontology in Higher Education.

She said she was honored to receive the award.

“I admire Gordon Streib’s many contributions to the field of aging and am so pleased to be in the company of the other award recipients,” Altpeter said.

Gordon Streib was a distinguished gerontological researcher was a GSA Fellow and a founding member of the Southern Gerontological Society.

Altpeter will be officially inducted into the GSA in November at the society’s 66th Annual Scientific Meeting.


Falls prevention program receives recognition from National Council of Aging

Tiffany Shubert

Tiffany Shubert

Every year, one in three adults fall and suffer tremendous negative impacts on their quality of life. While the risk of falls remain high among older adults, there has been a significant gap in fall prevention literature and its translation into real world settings.

Tiffany Shubert, a research fellow at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease prevention, sought to close this gap. She worked with other investigators to develop the Stay Safe, Stay Active program. Stay Safe, Stay Active was voted best application of the RE-AIM framework by and won an honorable mention from the National Council of Aging (NCOA).

Following the direction of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research, Shubert translated a fall prevention intervention into a community program at a Chapel Hill senior center. The Stay Safe, Stay Active program enrolled seniors in a 37 week, balance and strength training class that was supported by a grant for two years.

“We took a program that was validated in the literature and manualized it so that it would be delivered in a standardized way,” Shubert said.

The program successfully reduced falls by 40% and significantly decreased fall-related injuries compared to age-matched controls.

“By the time the grant funding stopped, the program had been fully adopted by the senior center and was sustained for the following four years and still going strong,” she said.

Shubert said the program is significant for older adults’ health outcomes, as it has easily measurable impacts.

“The program we translated has the potential to decrease rates of falls by 30%,” she said. “Translating these programs and delivering them in a sustainable way into the community is one way to begin to address this problem.”

Shubert’s paper utilized the RE-AIM framework designed to enhance the quality, speed, and impact of public health efforts to translate research into practice.

“I am thrilled that the work is being recognized on a national level and excited to see what happens next,” she said.