Our Story: Immersion in Wellness


Iowa State University Extension and Outreach programs for health and well-being are designed to help Iowa become the healthiest state in the nation. During summer 2012, some campers at the Iowa 4-H Center experienced Immersion in Wellness. Iowa State faculty in food science and human nutrition are conducting this new research study targeted toward lowering childhood obesity. The study is receiving funding from the Wellmark Foundation Healthy Communities Grant Program. Participating youth were immersed in nutrition education, gardening, culinary skills, physical activity, and a health-promoting environment.

Beth Mabary, an ISU College of Human Sciences graduate student and part of the Immersion in Wellness research team, says:

We’re really trying to impact the kids and trying to get them to understand the importance of nutrition and physical activity at a young age. So out here at the Immersion in Wellness camp, the kids get an opportunity to work out in the garden, they learn some kitchen skills in the culinary lesson, and then they also get to learn some things about nutrition and physical activity.

They start off in the garden. They learn everything from harvesting, planting, weeding — everything there could be with the garden. The master gardeners are a great help — teaching the kids, getting down in the dirt teaching them all about gardening. The kids get to bring that produce in; they work with it in the culinary [lesson]; they learn different knife skills. They learn the importance of food safety and washing hands, and all those really important kitchen things that some kids don’t know and they’ve never had the opportunity to see in a kitchen. And then they get to go to the nutrition [lesson] and they learn the importance of those vitamins and minerals that are in those fruits and vegetables that they’ve harvested … how that can really benefit them later in life and why it is so important to eat those fruits and vegetables.

Ruth Litchfield, an associate professor and ISU Extension and Outreach nutrition specialist, says:

The camp experience here is one of those learning opportunities that we wanted to take advantage of and also encourage some research at the same time. So we really had kind of the perfect storm of blending research, extension outreach, and the academic side of the College of Human Sciences into this project.

One of the questions that we had was, what if we had control of that environment for youth for the entire week? We could really do some educational programming; we could have them in that environment that really promotes nutrition, physical activity, overall wellness. We inserted some gardening experience, because from research we know that if they are engaged in the growing and the production, the harvesting of that produce, they’re more likely to try it.

So we really felt it was just the ideal blending of a lot of different facets, that Extension, College of Human Sciences, research all came together. The take home from our project is really that kids understand that being well, being healthy, is fun. They’ve had an opportunity to immerse themselves in wellness — from gardening to learning how to cook to eating what they’ve actually grown in the garden and being physically active. It’s fun.