Fall 2018 Grantees

Community-University Partnership Grant Program

Title: Finding your Y: Preventing childhood obesity through building family resilience within YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities Neighborhood Centers

Community PI: Kate Whitby, Neighborhood Centers Senior Program Director, YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities

University PI: Jennifer Linde, Ph.D. Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota

Amount Awarded: $49,982

Length of Project: 1 year


The proposed project will address the growing concern of childhood obesity by applying a model of family resilience to health and wellness programming. As childhood obesity rates continue to rise, it has become increasingly crucial to take bold and creative preventive action. While conventional approaches to obesity prevention operate within a problem-focused paradigm, an approach emphasizing mindfulness and resilience creates opportunity to understand childhood obesity through a lens of positive emotional wellbeing.

The proposed program will target socioeconomically disadvantaged families residing in affordable housing complexes (YMCA Neighborhood Centers) throughout the Greater Twin Cities Area. Recognizing that Minnesota is home to some of the greatest disparities in the nation relating to poverty and increased health risk, YMCA Neighborhood Centers serve families where they live and help connect members to the resources they need to facilitate a path out of poverty. While these families may have unique barriers to healthy eating due to limited financial resources and environmental constraints, mindful awareness and mindful eating practices are accessible across a wide range of income levels, ages, and cultures.

Together, the University and the YMCA will build and implement an innovative and strengths-based family resilience program, targeting mindfulness, mindful eating, nutritional knowledge, and behavioral modeling as key components of healthy living. Cultivating a mindfulness practice will increase mindful eating, a unique approach to obesity prevention that emphasizes how to eat instead of what to eat. Mindful eating focuses on the holistic individual, promotes the reduction of caloric intake in a way that may reduce barriers relating to weight status, and provides the flexibility needed to achieve and maintain healthy weight. Additionally, research suggests that, as children develop, hunger cues from the body are abandoned. Thus, a mindful eating approach may “refocus parents [and caregivers] on biological cues to eating, which they may role model for their child.” 

The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities is uniquely positioned to do this work in collaboration with the University, given its extensive history of community-wide obesity prevention efforts and commitment to providing support for families in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. This exciting new research partnership opportunity opens the door for the University to create and sustain a strong relationship with a well-respected organization capable of producing positive, tangible, systemic change.

The YMCA has a broad reach across the Greater Twin Cities and beyond, with more than fifteen established and thriving youth development initiatives, such as the Beacons program, youth intervention services, Teen Thrive, pre-school daycare, and Healthy Kids afterschool programs. There is ample opportunity and capacity for reaching families through these initiatives, yet an unmet need remains to engage families in an ongoing and meaningful way. Past family engagement events, such as food shelves and cooking demonstrations, have shown that YMCA-engaged families are willing and want to learn about nutrition and healthy eating. Thus, there is great potential for the proposed program’s framework to be translated to a variety of settings and contexts across the Y association, which will enhance our potential to attract donations from local foundations to support translation activities and open doors to future dissemination and health equity grant opportunities from the Minnesota Department of Health, University of Minnesota, or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention community grant programs.

The YMCA’s central Healthy Living team, which oversees Healthy Kids initiatives and acts as a central communication office, will take the lead on disseminating findings to the greater YMCA community and beyond. It is within this team’s capacity to facilitate the sharing of the program’s framework and outcomes produced via video, photos, social media, formal presentations, and meetings, and evaluate programs to see where the proposed program structure might fit as an enhancement to the ongoing Healthy Kids initiatives.

This program attempts to break barriers to healthy living and eating for families across cultures and income levels by focusing on core resilience constructs, such as cultivating a positive outlook and living mindfully. If this project is successful, we will have created a platform for developing programming to reach all members of the Y community to enhance health. Together, our collaborative team envisions a future where all families have an opportunity to find their Y and live their best, healthiest, happiest lives.