The University of Arizona

UA Works to Build Healthy Communities as Part of Land-Grant Mission

By Alexis Blue, University Communications | August 29, 2012

The UA is working to improve the health of residents of Arizona and beyond through education, research and outreach.

The UA is involved in numerous efforts to provide nutrition education to communities throughout the state.
The UA is involved in numerous efforts to provide nutrition education to communities throughout the state.
The Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health engages students in service-learning courses, which place them in communities where they can work directly with residents on health issues.
The Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health engages students in service-learning courses, which place them in communities where they can work directly with residents on health issues.
Faculty and students in the UA health sciences are consistently working on research to help improve the health of residents in Arizona and beyond.
Faculty and students in the UA health sciences are consistently working on research to help improve the health of residents in Arizona and beyond.
Cooperative Extension works to deliver important nutrition messages to low-income families through the federal EFNEP and SNAP-Ed education programs.
Cooperative Extension works to deliver important nutrition messages to low-income families through the federal EFNEP and SNAP-Ed education programs.
Walk Across Arizona is a statewide walking campaign, started at the UA, that encourages people to engage in regular physical activity.
Walk Across Arizona is a statewide walking campaign, started at the UA, that encourages people to engage in regular physical activity.

The University of Arizona, with its land-grant mission, is dedicated to serving the community in a variety of ways. One of those ways is by promoting good health and nutrition throughout the state and beyond through health education, outreach and research.

From community classes that teach low-income families to make healthy meals to academic programs that pair UA medical students with physicians in rural areas, the University’s health and wellness programs are diverse and varied, but they all share a common goal: to build a healthier Arizona.

Health sciences colleges engage in vital research, education

Among the integral players in that endeavor is the Arizona Health Sciences Center, which includes the UA College of Medicine – with campuses in both Tucson and Phoenix – as well as the colleges of nursing, pharmacy and public health.

Not only are the health sciences colleges working to educate tomorrow’s health-care professionals while engaging in cutting-edge research with a local and global impact, they also are doing important hands-on work in Arizona communities, often with vulnerable or underrepresented populations.

The UA’s Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, for example, maintains several programs and centers dedicated to community health issues, including, among others, the Center for Rural Health, which focuses on health issues in rural communities; the Canyon Ranch Center for Prevention and Health Promotion, which promotes health literacy and healthy living through community education and research; and the Arizona Smoker's Help Line, or AshLine, a telephone-based coaching program designed to help people across Arizona and the nation to stop smoking.

“The idea of a land-grant institution is really strengthening communities in our state,” said Jill Guernsey de Zapien, associate dean for community programs for the College of Public Health. “I think the College of Public Health has a very special mission because while public health is certainly concerned with the health and well-being of the entire community, we have a very special emphasis on vulnerable and undeserved populations throughout or state, which makes us a central piece of the mission of a land-grant institution.”

About 97 percent of students from the College of Public Health participate in internships focused on health disparities, said Iman Hakim, the college's dean. Graduate students also have the option of getting out of the classroom and working in the communities through immersive week-long service learning courses, funded by the Arizona Area Health Education Centers Program, a non-profit organization that promotes community and educational partnerships to increase quality health-care access, especially for rural and urban underserved communities. Service learning courses allow students to work hand-on with a variety of populations, such as refugees, homeless individuals, residents of U.S.-Mexico border communities or American Indians living on Navajo reservations in Northern Arizona.

In the UA College of Medicine, educational programs like the Rural Health Professions Program, which places UA medical students with practicing physicians in rural communities, or the internationally renowned Arizona Telemedicine Program, which uses telecommunications technology to provide training and specialty consults to health-care providers and patients in rural areas, also serve populations in need.

“Reaching out to Arizona and its people has been a cornerstone of the UA College of Medicine since its founding in 1967,” said Steve Goldschmid, dean of the UA College of Medicine.

The college also generates millions of dollars in research funding to address a wide spectrum of health issues affecting the greater population.

“UA College of Medicine scientists are working on a vast array of basic, clinical and applied research projects. Some are seeking to solve the mysteries of childhood diseases, while others are dedicated to developing better treatments – and hopefully cures – for such killers as heart disease, cancer and infectious diseases. Still others are testing new treatments for arthritis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, all major threats to Arizona’s aging population,” he said.

In the UA College of Pharmacy, the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center works closely with community groups and American Indian nations across the state on health issues related to the environment. In the UA College of Nursing, researchers are busy looking for ways reduce risk and promote health amongst vulnerable populations.

These are just a few examples of some of important work being done by the UA health sciences to build healthier communities.

“All of these programs, and many more, align with the land-grant mission of extending knowledge,” said J. Lyle Bootman, UA senior vice president for health sciences and dean of the UA College of Pharmacy. “They inform the public on important health issues, provide vital services to patients and teach professionals how to be better at their work. It all makes our communities and state stronger.”

Translating health research into tools for communities

Also at the forefront of the University’s efforts to promote community health and wellness is UA Cooperative Extension in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the UA's historic signature land-grant college.

A wide range of health and wellness programs are offered through Cooperative Extension, focusing on everything from physical fitness to eating right to children’s dental health. Walk Across Arizona, an eight-week program that challenges teams throughout the state to track their miles walked online, is one program designed to promote regular physical activity. Cooperative Extension also operates Family Resource Centers throughout the state that offer educational opportunities like parenting and child-development classes.

“Our tagline in Cooperative Extension, and really what we're all about is improving lives, communities and the economy,” said Linda Houtkooper, associate director of programs for Cooperative Extension. “That’s really our mission: to make people’s lives better. Then, in turn, it improves what happens in their communities, and in turn it improves the economy. And that really is the heart of the land-grant mission.”

The University’s efforts to promote nutrition, physical fitness, health and wellness persevere in a time when such topics are at the forefront of national conversations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than one-third of adults and approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese, and national campaigns like First Lady Michele Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative are intensifying efforts to raise healthier, more physically fit children.

The University seeks to contribute to those efforts by translating health research into applicable tools for community members.

“We’re science-based here at the University. We try to translate that knowledge into practical knowledge that people can use every day,” said Scottie Misner, associate nutrition specialist for Arizona Cooperative Extension. “We try to get that information out in the community – to community groups, to our schools, to our families, to their children – and that’s how we complete the land-grant mission.”

Misner is state coordinator for two federal nutrition programs that the UA helps facilitate.

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, or EFNEP, which operates in all 50 states and in Arizona is called the Extension Food and Nutrition Education Program, provides education to low-income families on topics such as how to buy healthy foods on a small budget or how to plan family meals that are low in salt, fat and sugar. Cooperative Extension provides training and support to EFNEP community educators in five Arizona counties – Pima, Maricopa, Pinal, Cochise and Santa Cruz.

In addition, UA Cooperative Extension is a member of the Arizona Nutrition Network, a program of the Arizona Department of Health Services that includes several statewide partners, such as various health departments, Native American tribes, school districts, food banks and non-profit agencies working to provide nutrition and physical activity education statewide to individuals eligible for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

Cooperative Extension faculty and staff across the state provide food-stamp eligible families and their children with nutrition and fitness education in classrooms and community settings through SNAP-Ed, the educational arm of SNAP. In 2011, Cooperative Extension had nearly 100,000 SNAP-Ed participants in eight Arizona counties, many of them young children, who are key to building a healthier future.

The UA’s commitment to the building healthy communities is just one way the University is fulfilling its land-grant mission to meet the needs of Arizona, as well as the nation and world.

“We think it really makes a difference with people,” Misner said. “It improves lives.”