Bringing epigenetics to middle school education

epigenetics St Helens March 2014
Approximately 450 St. Helens Middle School students attended an OHSU Let's Get Healthy! fair on Thursday, March 6, where a learning station about epigenetics, a new field of science that describes how a person's choices can affect their health by changing the way their DNA works, was making its debut.

Let's Get Healthy! uses information technology and interactive manipulatives to teach the public of all ages about their health. The new epigenetics station features an interactive video game and DNA manipulatives that allow students to explore how epigenetic marks on our DNA can influence our health, our risk of disease, and can be passed to future generations.

The St. Helens middle school students' understanding of epigenetics was measured as part of the video game and also through pre/post surveys given in the classroom. While the pre-survey data are currently being processed, initial findings suggest that the majority of students had never heard of epigenetics before. Students are not alone - the topic of epigenetics is brand new and largely unknown to most audiences. In a pre-survey with St. Helens teachers, only 36% had heard of epigenetics before, though 82% reported being interested in learning more about it.

The Let's Get Healthy! website is adding information about epigenetics and will feature teacher-created classroom lessons and briefing sheets that can be used with students. The epigenetics video game will be posted for public play in April 2014.

The epigenetics station is funded in part by the OHSU Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness. The research project to develop the epigenetics station was led by Jackie Shannon, Ph.D., associate professor of public health & preventive medicine and director, Let's Get Healthy; and Lisa Marriott, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health & preventive medicine and associate director, Let's Get Healthy. The project, "Improving Adolescent Awareness of the Epigenetics on Generational Nutrition," was selected for funding by the Moore Institute because its efforts to introduce Oregon middle school students to the concept of epigenetics and promote their understanding of how their current behaviors, specifically dietary intake, can impact their health and the health of future generations align with the Moore Institute's central commitment: to reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases across the lifespan in current and future generations by promoting healthy, nutrient-rich diets based on whole-foods in early life.