Category Archives: Food & Health

Virginia Cooperative Extension employees increase colorectal cancer screening rates by 20 percent

Colorectal cancer is the third-most commonly diagnosed and third-most fatal cancer in men and in women in the United States and Virginia. New screening methods have allowed for both the early detection of colorectal cancer and its prevention through the removal of intestinal polyps before they become cancerous. Early detection of colorectal cancer is crucial to successful treatment and increases survival rates from 13.1 percent, when discovered at an advanced stage, to 90 percent, if detected at an early, localized stage. In addition to screenings, a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a healthy eating pattern, and appropriate weight maintenance is pivotal to decreasing risk of colorectal cancer.

Eighty by 2018 emblem

In February 2016, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) joined the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable’s “80% by 2018 Initiative” to eliminate colorectal cancer as a public health issue. Conducted for VCE employees, a colorectal cancer awareness campaign urged eligible members to get screened for colorectal cancer and encouraged everyone to adopt healthy lifestyle practices that reduce colorectal cancer risk. The campaign’s key message is that “colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable.”

The campaign resulted in healthful changes in diet, exercise, and screening. VCE staff reported increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat every day and substituting white meats for red and processed meats. Half of those asked said they had started exercising, and many increased the time or intensity of their exercise. Most importantly, the actual colorectal cancer screening rate among all VCE employees increased from 52.7 percent in fiscal year 2016 to 73.3% in fiscal year 2017 — a 20.6 percent increase in screening.

The goal within VCE is to reach a colorectal cancer screening rate of 80 percent by 2018, but we are going beyond just educating ourselves. Extension agents are introducing the initiative to the communities they serve. Agents will work with employers in their counties to conduct the “Colon Cancer Free Zone” worksite campaign, which increases employee awareness of colorectal cancer as a preventable disease and helps move them to action. If we work together, we can reach the goal of 80 percent colorectal cancer screening of all eligible Virginians by 2018.

If interested in conducting the “Colon Cancer Free Zone” campaign at your worksite, please contact Carlin Rafie at crafie@vt.edu or 540-231-3162.

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Exploring genetics to combat malaria and Zika

The Zika virus has quickly become a major health threat, and researchers at Virginia Tech are looking for ways to curtail its spread.

Fralin Life Science Institute’s Vector-Borne Disease Research Group team members, from left: Zhijian “Jake” Tu, professor of biochemistry; Brantley Hall, biochemistry graduate student; Atashi Sharma, entomology graduate student; and Igor Sharakhov, associate professor of entomology

Fralin Life Science Institute’s Vector-Borne Disease Research Group team members, from left: Zhijian “Jake” Tu, professor of biochemistry; Brantley Hall, biochemistry graduate student; Atashi Sharma, entomology graduate student; and Igor Sharakhov, associate professor of entomology

The virus, which is primarily spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito, has been passed on to a growing number of Americans since early 2016, and the World Health Organization has declared it a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Biochemist Zhijian “Jake”  Tu is one of several Virginia Tech researchers zeroing in on the Zika virus. Tu is studying genes that turn biting female mosquitoes into males, and he is exploring genetic strategies to stop the transmission of the Zika virus by reducing the number of female mosquitoes. Male mosquitoes do not bite and are harmless to humans, while female mosquitoes bite humans to get the blood they need for egg production.

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Extension is ahead of the curve on new food safety rules

Adrianna Vargo, director of grower services at Charlottesville’s Local Food Hub, has collaborated with Virginia Cooperative Extension to get critical information to growers regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Safety Modernization Act. Its aim is to make the food supply safer by shifting the focus from responding to food contamination problems to preventing them from occurring. The policy is the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws for both human and animal foods in 70 years.

As part of its grower services program, the Local Food Hub’s Adrianna Vargo conducts a mock audit of Singing Earth Farm in Augusta County.

As part of its grower services program, the Local Food Hub’s Adrianna Vargo conducts a mock audit of Singing Earth Farm in Augusta County.

Vargo and Extension have acted as boots-on-the-ground liaisons for more than 60 growers throughout Virginia and in North Carolina by providing critical workshops to ensure producers will be able to comply with FSMA legislation.

“One of the aspects of this legislation that has been a huge concern for growers is water testing. FSMA requires so many more water tests throughout the growing season,” Vargo said. “Extension has been an invaluable resource for training. They have been very inclusive and responsive to growers’ needs.”

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Private donor helps Virginia Family Nutrition Program give cookware to families in need

a man slicing zuccinni

Family Nutrition Program participants learn healthy living strategies including healthy cooking, physical activity, and thrifty food shopping.

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program recently launched a new pilot program called Let’s Get Cookin’. The program, taught by Family Nutrition Program Assistants in northern Virginia, focuses on healthy living strategies including healthy cooking, physical activity, and thrifty food shopping. At the end of each program series, participants who complete the entire course will receive a cookware set.

This initiative began in August 2016, when the Family Nutrition Program received a call from a private donor who wanted to contribute to the program. Since the Family Nutrition Program works with limited-resource families and SNAP recipients, the donor suggested giving cookware sets as an incentive to participants who completed the programs.

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Freshwater shrimp become a big deal

As the freshwater shrimp in his ponds continued to grow and multiply, Charles Carter knew he had a good product to sell.

Dan Kauffman (left) is helping shrimp producers expand their markets through shrimp boils.

Dan Kauffman (left) is helping shrimp producers expand their markets through shrimp boils.

In his second year of production, Carter wanted to create product buzz in order to sell a portion of his production to local consumers. Carter was already selling his product wholesale as a member of the Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network Cooperative, but he also wanted to market retail.

And he knew just where to look for assistance — Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Enter Dan Kauffman, Extension seafood marketing specialist at the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hampton.

Kauffman had been helping freshwater shrimp producers get their products to market, which also involved another part of his résumé — his fondness for shrimp boils.

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